December 2, 2022
Thanks to support from legislative leaders—including Representative Pam Marsh, Senator Jeff Golden and others—the University of Oregon School of Law’s Oregon Office for Community Dispute Resolution (OOCDR) recently secured $1.2 million in grant funding from Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS).
The funding is being used to deliver free eviction prevention mediation services at Resolution Centers in five major regions of the state.
Mediation is an effective way to resolve disputes between renters and their housing providers and prevent evictions before they happen.
“Mediation is a key component of an integrated ‘upstream’ housing stability system,” said OOCDR Administrator Patrick Sponsler. “Instead of focusing all our efforts on addressing the negative outcomes of eviction, upstream strategies like mediation are designed to increase housing stability by preventing evictions from ever happening in the first place.”
Eviction in Oregon
High prices, supply shortages, and the ongoing effects of the pandemic have resulted in a perfect storm of challenges for many Oregon renters. The worst impacts were forestalled due to a temporary statewide moratorium on evictions that ended in July of 2021.
When the majority of renter protections expired, housing providers were able to begin evicting tenants for non-payment of back rent accumulated over the pandemic. Since July 2021, over 17,000 eviction cases have been filed in Oregon, 66% of which were due to non-payment of rent.
Compounding matters, State economists announced in September that housing providers can raise rent up to 14.6% next year under the 2019 state rent control law that ties the maximum increase to inflation.
The impact of eviction on individuals and families is significant. An eviction can be the direct cause of poverty, homelessness, job loss, and loss of possessions. It can also increase health disparities and disrupt a child’s education. Moreover, an eviction filing limits a renter’s ability to secure new housing, trapping individuals and families in a cycle of housing instability and poor outcomes.
The U.S. legal system favors housing providers, and housing providers tend to have the greatest share of power and resources in court. The most recent data on eviction case outcomes in Oregon revealed only 9% of renters were represented by an attorney and that housing providers were more than twice as likely to prevail in an eviction trial.
How Mediation Works
In mediation, both sides bring all issues to the discussion and consider a range of creative ways to address the dispute. The mediator’s focus on a fair process creates greater equity between parties and allows the parties to focus on solutions that work for all involved, rather than the narrow set of solutions permitted in court.
For example, in a dispute between a renter and a housing provider, a mediator might help participants develop a plan for rent repayment, discuss reimbursement options, help connect renters to needed services (e.g., credit counseling, rehousing services, financial renter assistance, legal aid, energy assistance, transportation programs, etc.), or prepare a “graceful exit” plan—a negotiated move-out date—to allow more time for the tenant to secure new housing and avoid the long-term consequences of an eviction filing.
Housing stability mediation services have a strong history of success in Oregon. In the 2019-2021 biennium, approximately 75% of mediated housing disputes resulted in the renter and housing provider reaching an agreement.
“Access to free mediation will help keep more vulnerable Oregonians housed, so this funding will have a tangible impact on people’s lives and livelihoods across the state,” Patrick Sponsler noted. “The grant program is rooted in access to justice for people marginalized by economic circumstance.”
To learn more about the OHCS-funded Eviction Prevention Mediation Demonstration Program, including where to access free mediation services, please click here.
Oregon Law’s Office for Community Dispute Resolution program currently supports 15 Resolution Centers across Oregon. To learn more about its work and view the full network of resolution centers, please click here.