Lessons Learned from the Eviction Prevention Learning Lab cohort 2021-22
As eviction rates go back up following the court shutdowns and emergency moratoria during the pandemic, communities are struggling with the question: how can we prevent evictions?
How can we help people stay in their homes, avoid lawsuits to force them out of their houses or pay extra fees, and have a scarlet ‘E’ on their credit report for years to come? And how can we help mom-and-pop landlords who are trying to avoid a costly lawsuit and turning a unit over to find a new renter?
The past several years have seen a tide of new programs, policies, and technology initiatives all aiming to prevent evictions in different ways. What are all of these initiatives, and how can we expand them to help more communities across the US?
Our team at Stanford Legal Design Lab and the National League of Cities runs the Eviction Prevention Learning Lab (EPLL), which has established a strong, local base of knowledge about how to prevent evictions, and how to start up and scale successful new programs and policies.
The Eviction Prevention Learning Lab, a peer-to-peer network of local city leaders, has just concluded our cohort. This program engaged teams from 30 municipalities in 22 different states, totaling roughly 400 individual participants. The EPLL cohort operated from early 2021 through autumn 2022 and uncovered many promising practices around how evictions can be prevented, — as well as barriers that stand in the way of local leaders looking to move the needle on housing stability.
After working closely with the city leaders over the past 18 months, our organizing team at Stanford Legal Design Lab and NLC have synthesized the cohort’s progress, insights, and next steps in this essay. These insights & patterns from the 30 cities in the EPLL can help other regions’ government agencies, courts, nonprofits, and community leaders to use in their eviction prevention work.
Why have an eviction prevention cohort?
Communities across the country are struggling with a growing eviction crisis, in which tenants are at risk of lawsuits, forced moves, and other strategies to displace them from their rental homes. Evictions lead to housing instability and homelessness, as well as collateral consequences for people’s credit reports, education, employment, health, and finances.
So what are ways to prevent evictions? In the past, local leaders have had to struggle with this question on their own. Eviction laws and housing market dynamics are often highly local. Different cities and states have different rules, protections, policies, and market forces. This fragmented landscape makes it hard to address the crisis. Local leaders often have to take the lead in navigating their local stakeholder groups, legislation, court rules, and funding relationships to find solutions.
The EPLL helped local leaders know what programs and policies are possible, what’s been tried in other similar regions, and how they can deploy these new initiatives successfully. Throughout the 18 months, EPLL cohort members learned what is happening throughout the country to deal with the eviction crisis, through presentations, interactive meetings, design workshops, and technical assistance engagements. They were trained in new data and communication skills, they heard detailed case studies about how new services or policies roll out, and they built relationships with their counterparts in other regions. All of these webinars, meetings, and share-outs have led to a strong national network that can adapt and scale the most promising practices to address evictions. The EPLL participants have used the cohort to create new innovative solutions that work for their local dynamics.
What have the past 18 months of eviction prevention been like?
At the closing meetings of the EPLL, our organizing team asked city leaders about what they have accomplished since the start of 2021. Here are some of the big accomplishments they highlighted:
Emergency Rental Assistance distributed
The biggest accomplishment most leaders shared from the past two years was the huge volume of rental assistance used to prevent evictions. Significant amounts of emergency rental assistance were successfully distributed to tenants and landlords at risk.
For example, $304 million dollars were distributed to people in need in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, it was $52 million. Local leaders created completely new emergency rental assistance programs during the pandemic and successfully used ERA money to keep people in their homes and resolve landlord-tenant disputes.
New, ongoing ERA program infrastructure
Building upon efforts to establish and streamline“emergency” ERA programs set up to distribute COVID-related federal funding, some regions are now pursuing ongoing programs. They have capitalized on the new awareness of rental assistance as a powerful and effective program for housing stability. Now they are developing ERA programs with different — often smaller — funding sources than the COVID-era ones, but that can still operate to incentivize diversion rather than lawsuits or lockouts. Local leaders have been able to document the impact of ERA on eviction prevention, and have used this data to support further ERA efforts.
Court partnerships, rule changes, and programs
Many EPLL leaders were able to bring city agency, nonprofit, and court leadership together to create new court-based interventions. These are key to preventing evictions by getting support, mediation, and financial assistance to tenants and landlords struggling through a conflict. Some of the innovations included new diversion programs to turn lawsuits into settlement agreements, changes to courtroom setups that connect litigants with more holistic services and guidance, outreach strategies to encourage participation, and co-located services to help litigants get financial and housing navigation.
Some courts even changed their rules about how eviction cases proceed, with more judicial management, mediation sessions, integrations with ERA programs, and support for people without lawyers. These court pilots are now being formalized and spread through initiatives like the National Center for State Courts’ Eviction Diversion Initiative.
Innovative, equity-focused outreach efforts
The EPLL members, with guidance and assistance from our NLC and Stanford team, created new ways to connect tenants and landlords with eviction prevention help. This included new on-the-ground community networks and in-person assistance. City leaders and nonprofits in places like Louisville and Chattanooga have brought services to people in their neighborhoods, with door-knocking campaigns, pop-up offices, and on-site training. They built these community-based outreach efforts in order to reach people with strong word of mouth, particularly in areas where there was a high risk of eviction.
In addition to community-based outreach, the EPLL members also developed strong digital and visual outreach as well. They created (and shared) new style sheets, social media campaigns, landlord-tenant websites, text message lines, and intake partnerships with other social service groups. These outreach materials made use of many different modes and leveraged the power of the Internet to reach different audiences. These strategic outreach efforts helped increase awareness about new programs like ERA and eviction diversion programs and encouraged equitable participation in them.
The establishment of strategic coalitions and networks
EPLL cohort members, including city teams in Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Milwaukee, highlighted this theme as a key priority to deploying any new individual initiative. To really prevent evictions, city leaders discovered that it was necessary to build a local strategy group that spanned different agencies, nonprofits, courts, legal aid, and community groups.
EPLL city leaders coached each other on how to build an effective local network. One key step was aligning courts, city government, legal aid, nonprofits, and foundations around the notion of ‘eviction prevention’ as a common goal, which could help them understand how they could collaborate in new ways. Often this meant having regular meetings, having staff members at each others’ locations, finding ways to share data, and teaching each other about their own institutions. This was particularly helpful in setting up new ERA programs and then also winding them down. These ongoing strategic networks can help the leaders and communities respond to the opportunities and hurdles that emerge.
The importance of national networks
The EPLL helped city leaders to find inspiration, guidance, data, and other evidence that could support their own local work. At the EPLL sessions and in their peer-to-peer meetings, these cross-jurisdiction relationships bloomed in order to help city leaders get evidence, blueprints, strategies, and outreach templates that could help replicate and scale successful efforts. These national networks also provide an undercurrent of support to professionals who often are stressed and over-committed. Because they could find peers dealing with similar challenges in other locations, the EPLL relationships ended up being a place for leaders to recharge.
What’s next for eviction prevention?
Now regional leaders are turning to the next phase of eviction prevention work. When we asked them what their current goals and challenges are, here is the agenda they laid out for the next several years:
Moving to longer-term planning for sustainable innovation
Beyond local programs and short-term mandates, city leaders want to use what they learned during the short-term planning of the emergency to design permanent eviction programs, that also fit into the bigger picture at the state and national levels.
Shift to mediation and problem resolution
Now that there is less money to support ERA programs, local coalitions are exploring how to revise their prevention programs — especially court diversion programs. Many are focusing on community mediators, preventative outreach in high-risk neighborhoods, and mandatory pre-filing diversion programs to help landlords and tenants resolve problems without going through an eviction.
State government involvement
City leaders have also discovered the limits of what they can do at the local level to stop evictions. More are now exploring what they might be able to do in partnership with governors, state legislatures, and other statewide agencies. In some cases, this might be about statewide programs.
In other places, it’s legislative changes or funding. For example, some cities are trying to deal with statewide laws that prohibit eviction record sealing. Other leaders are cautious about proposing reforms to statewide landlord-tenant laws, for fear that once the law is open for changes, there might end up being changes that inhibit eviction prevention.
Strengthening local coalitions
Now that some agencies are moving away from eviction prevention as a core priority, leaders are working on how to keep their pandemic-era coalitions intact and stronger. Many cities are exploring more service co-location, referral networks, and funding plans. Some coalitions are considering breaking into different themes or seeking out common funding in order to keep the coalition strong.
Court involvement & judge leadership
A particular concern is court and judge involvement in these coalitions. Many cities have had difficulty getting local judges and court executives to collaborate on eviction diversion.
In response, they are creating data to show court leaders the impact of current court practices on the community’s housing and homelessness situation. They are also spotlighting how courts can better administer the justice system when they partner with other agencies on eviction diversion programs, resource networks, record sealing, and other efforts.
Judges can play a role in setting better court rules, scheduling, and courtroom setup that allow more participation in court, and more services to get a better outcome for both tenants and landlords.
Infrastructure around common models and data efforts
Groups are also thinking about regional and national coordination efforts that can spread best practices more efficiently and establish more knowledge about the eviction system. Groups are working on national data standardization and sharing efforts, like those led by New America. Some groups, including a coalition in Philadelphia and states in the Justice For All program, are considering how to make standardized, well-designed legal documents like court forms, eviction summons, settlement agreements, and leases, that improve prevention efforts. Some city teams are considering investing in broader public awareness of housing rights and equity, so that more people see how these interconnected programs around rental assistance, court diversion, mediation, affordable housing, and homelessness prevention all work together.
Working Towards Sustainable Eviction Prevention
The past two years have been a flurry of eviction prevention innovation, with new initiatives like emergency rental assistance, court diversion efforts, and community justice navigators starting up in regions across the US. But will these fledgling new initiatives take root, to become permanent, growing eviction prevention efforts?
Much of that will depend on what happens in the next year. Local leaders, as well as our NLC and Stanford Legal Design Lab, will continue to work on innovative, coordinated new efforts to help prevent evictions and all of the harm they cause to families and communities.
Explore pilots and data about eviction prevention at this site Eviction Innovation.
Find practical guides in the Emergency Rental Assistance Toolkit for more effective outreach, program design, partnerships, and more.
Read more about the Eviction Prevention Learning Lab here.