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Johnson County Court extends eviction mediation program to settle disputes, decrease homelessness

Johnson County Court extends eviction mediation program to settle disputes, decrease homelessness

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Johnson County’s 10th District Court is extending its eviction mediation pilot program after seeing success last year in settling disputes between landlords and tenants.

The court launched the program as a collaboration between the Johnson County Government and Johnson County 10th District Court staff.

The goal is to decrease the number of evictions in the county and prevent people from being homeless.

There are currently three mediation programs in Kansas: Sedgwick County (Wichita), Douglas County (Lawrence) and Johnson County.

The Johnson County program features mandatory mediation, and as of Friday, $500,000 worth of COVID-19 relief funds are available for rental assistance.

“What we would hope is that if our model proved successful, that it’s made available to the other 104 counties in Kansas,” Johnson County Magistrate Judge John McEntee said.

Another goal, according to Judge McEntee, is to decrease the number of violent evictions, like the tragic February murder of Drexel Mack, a Jackson County civil process server.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, an average of 14,560 eviction cases were filed each year in Kansas.

In Johnson County, about 3,000 evictions are filed annually.

“It’s a pretty heavy weight when you realize your decision, your signature, is taking people from housing to unhoused,” McEntee said.

Judge McEntee’s first year on the bench coincided with the suspension of federal Emergency Rental Assistance funds (KERA in Kansas), which were available to households falling behind on rent during the pandemic.

With those funds gone, McEntee said, he and those in Johnson County government knew an alternative was necessary.

“Fortunately, I was approached by commissioner Becky Fast, who’s on the Johnson County Board of Commissioners, and she wanted to know what we could do to help people facing eviction,” McEntee said. “And so that conversation very quickly led to a plan where we would start a mediation program. The mediators that would be here every week would be funded by Johnson County.”

The first phase of the pilot program was 90 days, and McEntee says from mid-September to mid-January, there were 128 cases that went through mediation.

Of those, 114 reached an agreement, with 79 of the cases ultimately dismissed.

A tenant in Kansas has approximately 28-30 days from the first time they learn about a possible eviction to when they must vacate the property.

Read the complete article here.

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