Oct 27, 2015

Don't Discriminate, Keep the Family Business

Javier had rented a house from Rick for the past four years. During that time he had been a good tenant, paying his rent on time, and even doing little things here and there to keep the place up.  Recently, however, Javier had lost his job and his wife was only working part time, so money was really tight. With three children at home, they had to make some tough decisions and had fallen a few months behind on rent.

Rick had been a landlord for about 30 years. It's how he made his living. Over time he had accumulated several properties but was now getting older and in the process of downsizing. His daughter had recently gotten married to a man named Kyle, and Rick had given them one of the properties to manage as a wedding present. However, there had been a few incidents of property damage and folks missing their rent obligations, so Rick had decided to step in and show Kyle how to evict someone. Unfortunately, that person was Javier.

Through the conversation, the mediator found out that while Kyle's position was that Javier had to leave, and Javier's position was that he needed more time (and money) to find a new place to take his family, there were some underlying interests for both of them that led to a better outcome.

Javier mentioned that some of the people who had caused problems in the building were Latino, and he didn't want to be lumped in with that group just because he was as well. He was embarrassed about falling behind in the rent, but was a little angry because he felt like Kyle and Rick may have stereotyped him because of others. He had recently gotten a new job and could afford to pay the rent again, plus a little extra to make up the back rent, but he wasn't sure he wanted to stay at this place if the landlords were going to discriminate.

Rick's perspective was that he was actually sorry to see Javier go, because he had always been a good tenant, but he was concerned that if income from the building didn't improve, Kyle and his daughter may end up losing the building and the head start he had given them through his hard work. He was also interested in Kyle learning how to manage the property on his own since he was getting older, and knowing how to evict someone was an important part of that.

For Kyle's part, he wanted to prove to his father-in-law that he was capable of managing the property and taking care of his own family.

With the help of the mediator, these three men were able to move beyond their positions and assumptions and see each other as people trying to do the best they could for themselves and their families. Once it became clear that they each felt bad about the situation and were really interested in finding a positive solution, they were able to come to an agreement.

Javier would stay and pay down the back rent over about six months. That would allow him and his family to keep their housing and avoid the stigma of eviction. It would also provide enough income for Kyle to stay ahead of the mortgage payments on the building and create a solution that put less stress on his relationship with Rick. Rick was able to achieve his goal of showing Kyle how the process worked and keep a good tenant while avoiding the appearance of being a discriminatory landlord.

In the end, the agreement met all the underlying interests of the parties and was an outcome they never would've gotten going to trial in front of a judge who would have to decide in stark terms if Javier's family would simply have to go or stay.

Aug 19, 2015

I Want Him to Be Somebody

In the past three months, CCR has served 10 additional families through its Juvenile Victim-Offender Mediation program. These 10 families have had a chance to engage in an impactful conversation about the choices made by juvenile clients and the impact these choices have on individuals and neighborhoods across the Chicagoland area. These conversations strengthen community, build communication skills, restore relationships and increase understanding. The story below illustrates CCR's services through its Juvenile Victim-Offender Mediation Program:

Justin, age 14, was scared to meet with the woman whose phone he had stolen a few months earlier. Along with a friend from school, he had grabbed Cheryl’s phone while on the ‘L’ and run out of the train car just before the doors closed. Later, Justin had seen his face on the local news and been taken to the police station by his mother, Ava, who had left work in disbelief upon hearing about the situation. Ava was angry that her son’s actions had harmed someone, but thankful that he was being given the opportunity to take responsibility for his actions by meeting with Cheryl face-to-face at the mediation session. Cheryl was a stranger to Ava and Justin and had not seen them since the incident months ago but thanks to CCR, all three were able to come together for a conversation on respecting others, safety, trust, responsibility and the dreams of mothers for their children.

Through the process of mediation, the mediator was able to facilitate a discussion which brought to light the fact that Justin had never been involved in anything illegal before and had had the respect and confidence of his mother up until the incident. After Justin delivered a tearful and heartfelt apology to Cheryl, his mother nodded saying: “he knows he wasn’t raised that way.” When asked by the mediator what had happened since Cheryl filed the police report, Ava laid out the thoughtful and loving parenting actions that had been taken at home to ensure Justin “never did something like this” again, which involved being grounded from regular activities and being assigned books to read and activities to complete on educational websites. Due to the new information the mediation revealed, Cheryl shifted from her original request that Justin do community service, to sharing that she was glad to hear that his mother really cared about what he had done and that he never did it again. Cheryl, a mother herself, felt comfortable with the consequences Justin’s mother had implemented and said that she accepted his apology as “real.”

Thanks to the mediation, Justin was able to hear both his mother and Cheryl talk about how this experience had affected them and their hope that he never did this again because the incident could have ended very differently. Cheryl went on to share with Justin and Ava that when the incident had occurred, she had actually stopped a man, who she said was “shaking in anger,” from running Justin and his friend down by saying; “They’re just kids. Phones are replaceable.” The mediator gave Cheryl and Ava an opportunity to talk about what would have happened if the man had gone after the boys or if the police had shown up.  Both women explained to Justin that he could have been seriously hurt or worse. Ava explained that the anger and fear expressed at the beginning of the mediation stemmed from her hope that her son would “go to college” and how she wanted him “to be somebody.”

Through the mediation services CCR provides, Justin not only got a chance to see Cheryl accept his apology, but also to show Cheryl and his mother that he did not want this incident to define him as he “could do better.” An agreement was reached by all the parties that creatively addressed the need for Justin to take responsibility for the loss of Cheryl’s phone and provided a way for Justin to rebuild trust with his family and community.

Jul 30, 2015

Continued Success in Housing Mediation Programs

Anita had been suffering from allergies for the better part of a year. She had seen numerous doctors, herbalists, and specialists and had spent thousands of dollars. Despite her pension and medical benefits, the co-pays had begun to pile up and she had fallen behind on rent. Finally, Anita got clear answers from one of her doctors. She was allergic to mold spores and the spores were likely in a place she visited frequently. Anita remembered a few months previously, when her landlord had hired professionals to do repair work for water damage on the first floor of her building. Even though she lived on the third floor, Anita worried that mold from the water damage might have become airborne and traveled into her apartment. Horrified, Anita packed her bags and moved in with a friend, trying to distance herself from the apartment she had rented for years. She was devastated to think that her own home had been making her sick all this time. While Anita’s symptoms became more manageable she decided to move out of her apartment.

David, Anita’s landlord, had rented to Anita for years. He couldn’t understand why a good tenant who had always paid rent would suddenly stop paying and not communicate with him. David felt he had no choice but to file in court. He had been taken advantage of by tenants in the past and hoped to avoid a similar circumstance with Anita.

The parties opted for mediation after a pro-bono attorney recommended it to Anita. CCR mediators were on-site during the landlord/tenant court call and were able to take the case immediately. In mediation, Anita had a chance to explain her allergies and expressed her concerns that there was something in the apartment that was making her sick. Because of the water damage and from what she had heard from neighbors, Anita was convinced there was mold in her apartment. David was surprised to hear of her concerns, since there had been no mold when the water damage was repaired, although he had not conveyed this to his tenants.

The mediator was able to facilitate a conversation between David and Anita about what had occurred with the water in the building. Both parties got new information – Anita did not realize there had been no mold and David did not realize that his tenants were concerned. The two agreed that they had had a good relationship in the past and both parties wished to come to an agreement in mediation. The mediator was able to help them make a realistic plan that would work for both parties. Anita was interested in leaving the apartment as soon as possible, since she was feeling much better not living there, and David hoped to have a new tenant in the unit quickly. Anita was willing to pay David the money she owed him for rent, but was unable to do so immediately. With the mediators help, the two were able to find a dollar amount and payment plan that was feasible.

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