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Blaine County mediation program seeks to prevent evictions before they reach court

eviction notice
DAVID STAATS
/
Idaho Statesman

A new program in Blaine County seeks to prevent evictions before they're filed in court.

Blaine County and the city of Ketchum are contracting with NeuroMediation Group LLC to provide free mediation for landlord-tenant issues in a year-long pilot program.

Ketchum officials said the $50,000 contract with NeuroMediation — the cost of which was split by the city and Blaine County — could help about 90 households avoid displacement or hardships that come along with eviction proceedings.

Carol Barkes, the founder of the mediation group, has run eviction mediation programs in court systems in the Treasure Valley and Nevada.

There is no court-based eviction mediation program in the Fifth Judicial District, which includes Blaine County.

However, the effort Barkes' group is starting in the county is unique because the interventions happen before an eviction notice is filed.

“It means that parties don’t have to go through the conflict and contention associated with filing lawsuits, and the cost associated with that as well,” Barkes said.

Instead, the mediators rely on Blaine County organizations to have their finger on the pulse and to notify them of potential conflicts. Individuals can also reach out themselves.

Barkes said her group is not there to advocate for one side or another, but to be a neutral third party, finding solutions for both parties.

“Maybe it’s a payment plan; maybe it’s rectifying some tenant issues that are occuring on the premises," she said.

Since the Ketchum City Council signed off on the program in September, the consultants have conducted five eviction mediations. After the program's public launch last week, the group is expecting more demand.

Pre-litigation mediation programs are growing in popularity and research has shown they help keep tenants in homes and help landlords reach settlements at a greater rate than if the mediation takes place after the legal process has begun.

Canyon County also offers pre-filing mediation.

Evictions on the rise after pandemic protections

Data from the Idaho Policy Institute show eviction filings in Idaho increased by 11% from 2020 to 2021, but actual evictions decreased. That's because of the federal eviction moratorium and rental assistance funds made available during the pandemic.

This year, evictions are rising again nationally to pre-pandemic levels.

Blaine County is estimated to have 30 eviction filings in 2022, an increase from the 20 evictions in 2019, NeuroMediation Group said.

Informal evictions are likely more common, as households receiving warnings or substantial rent increases may move out before an eviction notice is filed.

Ketchum city officials said NeuroMediation's program addresses a gap in local housing resources and helps the city toward its goal of preventing residents from being displaced amid a limited housing supply.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

As the south-central Idaho reporter, I cover the Magic and Wood River valleys. I also enjoy writing about issues related to health and the environment.