Eviction diversion programs keep tenants out of court and in their homes - Affordable Housing Online

Eviction diversion programs keep tenants out of court and in their homes

By on July 22nd, 2021

Tagged As: Affordable Housing News, Editorials

A New York court taking measures to protect the spread of COVID-19.
Photo by nycourts.gov

Some state and local governments are taking steps to keep low-income renters out of eviction courts as the national eviction moratorium nears its end. These state and local eviction diversion programs offer renters and landlords a less costly alternative to eviction court. Eviction diversion programs also help most renters who are behind on their rent catch up and keep their homes.

Eviction diversion programs typically provide mediation services as an alternative to going through the eviction process. They often provide free legal counsel or advocates to help low-income clients.

Many programs also offer supportive services, and more are also making emergency rental assistance available. Some programs will also remove eviction filings from court records and bar credit reporting bureaus from including eviction filing information.

In looking at the variety of eviction diversion programs that have sprung up during the pandemic, Princeton’s Eviction Lab has highlighted the most common features of successful programs. The best programs have these three features:

  • Access to legal counsel or an advocate.
  • Assistance.
  • Alternatives to court.

Access

to legal counsel or a trained advocate is one of the most critical pieces of a successful diversion program. About 90% of landlords show up in court with a lawyer, but only 10% of tenants have legal representation

In a National Low-Income Housing Coalition presentation this month, Professor Emily Benfer of Wake Forest University talked about the importance of legal representation in diversion programs. She said that 56% of programs cite access to legal counsel as the number one eviction prevention tool.

Assistance

includes both rental assistance and supportive services. Emergency rental assistance helps tenants catch up on back rent. It also helps property owners, especially small landlords, pay their mounting bills. Diversion programs can use the emergency rental assistance that has been provided by the federal government for pandemic relief.

Professor Benfer points out that 81% of property owners would be less likely to pursue eviction if rental assistance is available. 72% of landlords would be more likely to avoid eviction if tenants have supportive services.

Alternatives

to court usually involve some form of mediation. For mediation to be fair, tenants need to have legal representation, or at least an experienced advocate. Professor Benfer noted that a majority of landlords prefer it when tenants have representation.

The court system also needs to be structured to support mediation before cases end up in a courtroom. Professor Benfer noted that courts automatically divert eviction cases to mediation in 92% of programs reviewed. Early diversion by the courts is very important. Just having an eviction filing on record can hurt a renter’s credit and make it harder to rent another apartment. 

In Philadelphia’s diversion program, 91% of cases reached an agreement and avoided an eviction filing altogether. The diversion program in Syracuse, New York, contributed to a 75% decline in eviction filings.

These programs are very effective. They benefit both landlords and tenants, as well as local governments and the courts. Participating courts see a huge drop in caseloads. Local governments spend less, and lowering the number of evictions should reduce homelesssness.

Eviction diversion programs have tremendous success keeping low-income renters in their homes. Looking at several programs around the country, Professor Benfer pointed out that 67-96% of diversion program participants stayed in their homes. 

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, 82% of those in the diversion program stayed housed, while 75% kept their homes in Durham, North Carolina. Boston had even greater success, with 96% of renters in its diversion program still in their homes after one year, and 95% still housed after two years.

Landlords benefit from diversion programs in many ways, too. Eviction diversion saves landlords $5,000 on average over an eviction filing. Landlords also save on the costs of turning over a unit, such as repairs, painting, marketing and screening. In Boston’s diversion program, landlords saved 84% by keeping their tenants instead of going through with eviction.

Eviction diversion programs can benefit low-income renters, landlords, and local communities long after the coronavirus pandemic has faded. America already had an eviction crisis before the pandemic. Diversion programs promote equity, putting tenants and landlords on more equal footing.

The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for low-income renters. But the crisis has also provided a unique opportunity for communities across the nation to break the cycle of eviction and housing poverty. 

The federal government has provided billions of dollars for emergency rental assistance. These funds will allow renters to catch up on back rent and have secure housing as the economy re-opens. But maintaining diversion programs after the pandemic has receded will be important. The nation had an eviction crisis before the pandemic, and until more affordable housing is built to increase the supply, help avoiding eviction will be needed.

Published by

Chris Holden

Chris Holden, Affordable Housing Online's Senior Housing Analyst, has been in the affordable housing field for 25 years. Originally from Keene, New Hampshire, he has worked as a researcher, policy analyst, lender, trainer and real estate developer. He also taught political science at Keene State College. He is focused on making housing policies more accessible for low-income renters.