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MWI’s Eviction Mediation Program

MWI’s Eviction Mediation Program offers free mediation services in housing and eviction cases in Massachusetts. The program aims to prevent displacement and homelessness by helping low-income tenants work towards acceptable and beneficial agreements with their landlords without the need for costly hearings by a judge.


Problem to Be Addressed

In Massachusetts, summary process in the legal proceeding for evicting people from their homes. In 2016, approximately 40,140 of these cases were heard throughout the state of Massachusetts [1]. According to Housing Court statistics, plaintiffs – most often the landlord – were represented by counsel in an average of 63.6% of cases. Defendants – most often the tenant – were represented by counsel in only 6.9% of cases.

The rising number of families facing homelessness was reflected in the 35th Annual Homelessness Census conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission, which showed that the family homeless rate rose by 25% in 2015 [2]. Some families are able to find a shelter or motel, but the instability takes a toll on their children’s emotional, physical, and academic well-being. Listing a shelter or motel as an address also hurts people who are searching for a new job – several census respondents cited that companies will not hire someone who lists a shelter or motel as their permanent address, which keeps people locked in a cycle of instability.

Avoiding a court hearing, especially when a tenant is unrepresented, allows the tenant more control over the outcome. MWI’s mediators attend court hearings and work with landlords and tenants before the case reaches a judge in order to identify and work toward mutually agreeable solutions. Tenants can negotiate for more time to find an affordable place to live, secure home repairs contingent upon rent payments, and clear up misunderstanding and miscommunication with landlords. With more authority over the outcome, struggling tenants are more likely to avoid instability and possible homelessness.


Program Description

MWI provides onsite mediation services in district and municipal courts in East Boston, Dedham, Dorchester, Hingham, Newton, Plymouth, Quincy, and Wrentham. Before the case is heard, the clerk or judge refers appropriate cases directly to one of MWI’s mediation teams. The mediators work with both parties to identify their needs and mediate their efforts to negotiate a mutually beneficial and acceptable solution.

If the plaintiff and defendant come to an agreement in the mediation, they are able to avoid a court hearing and determine the terms of their relationship moving forward. This is the outcome of about 70% of the mediations MWI conducts through this program. Even when the mediation does not result in an agreement, the mediation process allows unrepresented parties to organize their case, receive more information from the other side, and work through their situation with a neutral third party.

The mediators on MWI’s Eviction Mediation Panel are experienced and specially trained in housing and eviction issues. Rather than focusing on positional bargaining between the parties, our mediators help each side identify their interests and needs and generate a range of options which could meet those needs. Mediators work with a case manager to work through difficult cases, and they keep their skills sharp through annual Refresher Mediation Skills Training and monthly Roundtable Seminars at MWI.


MWI’s Impact

MWI has offered free mediation services through our Eviction Mediation Program for over 20 years. Our panel of mediators have mediated over 4,000 cases during that time, serving approximately 13,000 landlords and tenants. MWI’s Eviction Mediation Program Case Manager maintains strong relationships with judges and clerks in the courts we serve, earning their trust and approval of the benefits this program provides.


For More Information

Please contact Chuck Doran, Executive Director, at cdoran@mwi.org or 617-895-4026.


Footnotes

1. Statistics compiled from the Massachusetts Court System FY 2016 Trial Court Statistics, available here: http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/court-management/case-stats/case-stats-2016-gen.html

2. 35th Annual Boston Homeless Census. Boston Public Health Commission: http://www.bphc.org/healthdata/other-reports/Documents/2015_HomelessCensusKeyFindings.pdf