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Housing mediation program could resolve disputes out-of-court

Your spouse is always right.

For everyone else, mediation may be necessary to resolve conflict.

In the case of housing disputes, a landlord-tenant mediation grant program may be available.

“By engaging in mediation, landlords and renters can avoid costly court fees and the detrimental long-term effects of an eviction appearing on a tenant’s record,” said Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL-Mpls), the sponsor of HF1215.

Additionally, she said, voluntary mediations and culturally specific resolution programs could achieve more effective and efficient dispute resolutions that keep people in their homes and get landlords paid.

A bill to appropriate $4 million evenly across the 2024-25 biennium community dispute resolution programs was held over Tuesday by the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

The Housing Finance Agency would distribute the funds and Community Mediation Minnesota would administer the program, but the latter’s costs are currently unspecified.

Grants could go toward:

  • providing housing dispute resolution services;
  • raising awareness of said services;
  • offering training and assistance to culturally specific dispute resolution programs;
  • increasing diversity of housing mediators;
  • legal assistance;
  • court service programs; and
  • creating evaluation tools so effective outcomes can be replicated.

“These programs use alternatives to the formal judicial system by offering less threatening and more flexible forums for persons of all ethnic, racial and socio-economic backgrounds to arrive at a self-determined outcome,” Agbaje said.

Mediation services may help focus on racial disparities too.

If Minnesota renters feel like second-class citizens, there are reasons for that, said Bernadette Kafoe, executive director of Mediation and Restorative Services.

Because homeowners in the state are disproportionately white and renters disproportionately Black, the gap in support for homeowners compared to renters needs to be a priority, she said.

More than 30,000 housing mediations have been facilitated under the Community Mediation Center umbrella, said Katie Arnold, executive director of Restorative and Mediation Practices.

Jennifer Frisbie, a project manager at Community Mediation Minnesota, said amicable resolutions are found in most cases to prevent not only evictions but also time and money spent in court.

Some Republicans expressed concern about oversight of the nonprofits.

“I believe Minnesota Housing Finance Authority needs to be much more involved in this to make sure our state dollars are being used for what their purpose is,” said Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge).

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