Case study Diverting Eviction-Related Cases Away from Courts
A Housing Innovation Program Case Study
Annie Heinrichs, Mark Treskon
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The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic amplified a preexisting housing crisis and brought national attention to innovative responses local leaders and policymakers implemented. Because of how evictions affected public health during the emergency and the disproportionate impacts evictions have on households of color, policymakers and advocates increasingly recognize evictions as severe and harmful life events that require urgent action to avoid cascading consequences. Evictions reduce a tenant’s ability to maintain and obtain employment, cause gaps in educational attainment, affect health and mental health, and often lead to a cycle of increasingly negative rental history. Evictions also raise crime rates, lower community stability, and decrease property values (Tokarz et al. 2020). Amid an already difficult eviction landscape, the pandemic exacerbated housing instability for people with unsecure employment.

Federal and state interventions, such as the eviction moratorium and emergency rental assistance programs, have provided key protections for households (Benfer et al. 2022). But as those protections have expired, local policies have provided innovative solutions and supported landlords and tenants.

One of these innovative solutions is precourt eviction diversion programs, which are “designed to divert cases from formal legal proceedings via negotiation, mediation, or arbitration, often in combination with legal assistance or other supports” (Treskon et al. 2021, 3). There are several reasons precourt eviction diversion is a better pathway than eviction court for tenants, landlords, and the community.

1. Landlords must pay court costs for court-based evictions in addition to the income they lose when tenants turn over and must account for transition-related repairs (Cohen and Noble 2020).

2. Mediation accessible via precourt eviction diversion can lead to more productive negotiations. It “provides a way for landlords and tenants to express emotions and concerns, and an opportunity to focus on more individually effective solutions than the courts can provide” (Tokarz et al. 2020, 254).

3. Eviction cases inundate the court system, create case backlogs, and require significant time and money at taxpayers’ expense.

This case study focuses on the precourt eviction diversion program operated by Community Legal Services (CLS), a Philadelphia-based organization that provides free civil legal assistance and advocacy for critical community policy changes. The diversion program was created in summer 2020 as part of the Emergency Housing Protection Act. This case study will provide an overview of the program, insights on implementation, and lessons learned for replication.

Research Areas Housing Race and equity Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Nonprofits and philanthropy
Policy Centers Research to Action Lab
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