By Mary Anne Sterling, Special Contributor and Community Foundation Stewardship Committee Member
Monroe County is no stranger to housing challenges, especially in Bloomington, where the average rent is among the highest in the state. Even before COVID-19, many families struggled to pay rent and were vulnerable to eviction. Behind the scenes, the Community Justice & Mediation Center has leveraged the talents and dedication of its volunteer mediators to help both tenants and landlords resolve conflicts. We recently checked in with Executive Director Liz Grenat to learn how a Community Foundation grant enabled CJAM to expand its reach to serve more in need.
Since 1995, CJAM has served as a bridge between individuals and the court system. In 2005, the Center expanded its grassroots efforts to offer community mediation to resolve conflicts and disputes between individuals. Liz explained that mediation services are provided by a network of trained, impartial community volunteers.
“They work tirelessly to help parties negotiate agreements, including tenancy, payment plans, and other issues.”
In 2020, the Community Foundation awarded CJAM a $21,000 grant to fund a project coordinator and web-based database to support its collaboration in Monroe Countyís Housing and Eviction Prevention Project (HEPP). This program reduces eviction, preserves housing, provides comprehensive access to social services, facilitates tenant and landlord education, and improves overall housing security for renters in Monroe County.
“Itís important for donors to know just how valuable the Community Foundation’s assistance has been in supporting our efforts,” Liz said. “Beyond the financial support, they have been flexible mentors and proactive partners during this most challenging time. Their support enabled us to build a digital case-tracking system, implement a new virtual court process, and leverage additional funding to enhance our services.”
“Our goal is to emphasize mediation, working with both parties to resolve and prevent elaborate legal proceedings. About 70% of the landlords have legal representation, but only about 5% of the tenants ever have legal representation, so our services can benefit both parties to a dispute,” she added.
“Some individuals are struggling and worry that they may be evicted,” Liz explained. “Legal eviction results in a court record, which can prevent individuals and families from relocating to decent housing in a safe neighborhood because many landlords screen for previous evictions.” Oftentimes eviction is the last resort. Mediating with CJAM enables these parties to resolve their disputes without a court hearing.
This program is just one aspect of the Community Foundationís strategy to address housing security in Monroe County. Because of your generous support and trust in the Foundation, innovative and impactful efforts are possible. Thank you for caring so deeply about our community and all those who call it home!
Want to get more involved? CJAM is in need of both volunteer mediators and pro bono attorneys. If you are interested in helping advance this organization’s important mission, contact the Center by email at [email protected] or phone at (812) 336-8677.