Eviction is a crisis in Philadelphia, but not everyone knows about the devastating impact it has on children.
Studies have shown that evictions can have negative psychological, medical, and social consequences. Mothers who are evicted are more likely to report depression, parenting stress, and a child in poor health. The trauma associated with forced moves and residential instability can result in children having lower school achievement, greater health risks, increased adolescent violence, and increased rates of depression. Additionally, housing loss increases the probability of experiencing job loss, compounding the household’s hardship. Evictions also mean school instability, harming a child’s ability to concentrate in school, or making parents more vulnerable to involvement in the child welfare system.
The Mayor’s Task Force on Eviction Prevention and Response reported that eviction disproportionately affects Philadelphia households headed by Black women with children, who are most likely to face forced moves, regardless of income. The impact of evictions can be severe and may trigger protracted instability and even homelessness.
To stabilize families and communities, and to prevent a tidal wave of evictions stemming from the pandemic, the City of Philadelphia launched the innovative Eviction Diversion Program last September. It’s a groundbreaking initiative to help landlords and tenants come to agreements without having to go to court — and should be made permanent.
Modeled off of Philadelphia’s nationally recognized Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, the Eviction Diversion Program is staffed by highly trained counselors and volunteer mediators to resolve disputes, with legal aid provided by Community Legal Services (CLS), Good Shepherd, and Philadelphia Legal Assistance.
Currently, landlords are required to apply for rental assistance and participate in the Eviction Diversion Program, which includes mediation with tenants who have fallen behind on their rent, rather than a court filing. All evidence shows that the program is working. Since the program’s inception in September, nearly 1,200 agreements have been reached — with landlords and tenants either agreeing to a full resolution or to continue negotiating. In fact, when landlords and tenants meet through the program, there is an 80% success rate, and all parties benefit.
We are grateful to the courts for extending the Eviction Diversion Program through June 30, and urge them to make it permanent because it is the right thing to do — not just during a pandemic, but as part of the normal court process.
Although housing counselors have reported that even reluctant landlords have walked away from the program satisfied with their outcomes, many landlords are hesitant to participate or may not know the program is available. The participation requirement ensures that everyone comes to the table before an eviction can happen. It also ensures that Philadelphia will be able to distribute the over $100 million in federal rental assistance that is in the initial stage of being processed.
The Eviction Diversion Program has benefits for everyone involved. Renters can avoid eviction records that prevent them from finding stable housing in the future and can negotiate agreements that keep them housed — particularly as we recover from the pandemic and resulting economic crisis. Landlords can avoid attorney and court costs and access rental assistance funds. In addition, communities, schools, and social ties can remain intact when neighbors avoid eviction.
At CHOP, we have invested in housing stability and healthy housing through the Healthier Together Initiative, Community Asthma Prevention Program Plus (CAPP+), and the Family Justice Partnership. We know that children benefit from programs that help families stay in their homes. Not only does eviction diversion stave off homelessness, helping children avoid missing school, living in shelters, and potentially ending up in foster care, but the program can also improve living conditions for children by bringing landlords and tenants together to remediate problems like mold, pests, and lead.
When we stabilize families, we give children a chance to thrive. The Eviction Diversion Program should continue to function with the requirement that landlords participate. Eviction prevention is at the core of stable families and keeping all children healthy and safe.
Tyra Bryant-Stephens is senior director at the Center for Health Equity and founder of the Community Asthma Prevention Program. Alonzo South is senior director of community engagement at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.