Relatively small, unexpected expenses are part of life. Your car may need a repair, or you may receive a healthcare bill that you didn’t plan for in your monthly budget. Many families can cope with one-time expenses, but for others, these disruptions can create financial hardships. As a result, they may have a temporary inability to pay rent that puts them at risk of eviction and, eventually, homelessness.
Katie McInally, Community Engagement Manager for Jesse Tree, is all too familiar with this recurring situation. Like many communities across the country, the Treasure Valley in Idaho is experiencing a housing crisis. But what isn’t ordinary is how few rights tenants have across the state. “If someone is behind on their rent and doesn’t pay within three days, a landlord can issue an eviction notice. After that, the process goes fast, with people being evicted in as little as 10 days,” says Katie.
Jesse Tree prevents homelessness by providing emergency rental assistance and eviction mediation to help Idahoans stay in their homes. After joining the Siemer Institute network in 2022, the organization trained employees to become eviction court mediators in order to support people facing eviction through the court process. A trained mediator attends every eviction hearing in Ada and Canyon counties, which make up the Treasure Valley, to resolve issues between tenants and landlords. The goal of mediation is to create a payment plan that works for both parties to ultimately keep the tenant in their home. If needed, Jesse Tree provides financial assistance to make payment plans attainable for tenants, but often, mediation alone is enough to avoid eviction.
“One of our clients is a 35-year-old woman who had a good job but came down with an infection that led to sepsis. Because she was hospitalized for two weeks, she was unable to work and couldn’t pay her rent on time. Her landlord charged her a $700 fee for being two days late on her rent,” says Katie. “She ended up in a revolving door of fees and late rent, racking up $4,000 and an eviction notice. Her car was repossessed, and she couldn’t afford food, but thankfully, her story didn’t end there. Our eviction court mediator intervened to help reduce her late fees, and now she is living in a new place and was promoted at work. Without court intervention, it is likely that she would have become homeless.”
The program’s success is widespread, with 20% of all evictions in Treasure Valley being resolved by Jesse Tree in 2022. Additionally, Jesse Tree employees were instrumental in introducing and advocating on behalf of Idaho Senate Bill 1039, which was recently passed to prohibit landlords from imposing unreasonable late fees on tenants.
“Most of the people we serve are single parents who run into a one-time issue. They don’t deserve to have their lives derailed,” says Katie. Support from the Siemer Institute has been instrumental in training more case managers in mediation, directly helping to keep more than 50 families in their homes in 2022.
“The fastest-growing demographic of those experiencing homelessness is children. By working together within our community and the Siemer Institute network, we are coming up with creative solutions to help families achieve housing stability,” says Katie.
The Siemer Institute helps fund Jesse Tree, which is a service provider of the United Way of Treasure Valley.