In late 2020, when housing advocates across the country were warning of an impending ‘tsunami’ of pandemic evictions, the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® prepared for the worst. Leveraging the goodwill of its members and resources from the REALTOR® Party, the association offered training scholarships to members willing to step up and volunteer with local mediation programs. It also conducted a vigorous public-facing campaign to educate renters and landlords about the benefits of resolving rental disputes through mediation, rather than going to court. While the worst hasn’t come to pass, multiple resources from the REALTOR® Party helped to raise awareness and produce a pool of trained volunteers – each one, a champion of housing stability.
Because mediation can be far simpler, quicker, and less expensive than a court battle, the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® realized that equipping members to be part of this solution would be beneficial all-around. Members themselves, notes Legislative and Regulatory Counsel Jonny Schreiber, were the driving force behind the idea: “They wanted to help, and to be giving back to their communities in this period of significant housing uncertainty.” It wasn’t ‘light duty,’ either, he explains – the training itself is thirty hours, followed by thirty hours of on-the-job work with a mentor. The association’s Government Affairs Committee created a Mediation Scholarship Program that would cover training expenses for nineteen members; over one hundred applications poured in. Thanks to a Commercial Innovation Grant from NAR Commercial Services a second wave of scholarships was granted, bringing the total to thirty-one.
The scholarship program was complemented by a public-awareness campaign explaining the benefits of choosing mediation to reach satisfactory compromises in non-payment-of-rent cases. Supported by a Consumer Advocacy Grant and Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party, it targeted landlords and tenants through online and social-media channels, generating a high click-through response that drove traffic to the state’s mediation website and other linked resources. “Not only were we able to promote the REALTOR® brand as compassionate and problem-solving,” says Schreiber, “but we significantly expanded our advocacy through direct consumer outreach. The whole program positions us well for the future, with stronger relationships with the state government departments involved in housing and mediation. We’re also hopeful that if more people choose mediation, we’re less likely to have to oppose challenging eviction policies down the road, like expanded moratoria.”
Although federal relief money kept the ‘tsunami of evictions’ at bay, having a ready pool of trained mediators, with others able to scale up quickly if needed, is a valuable asset for Massachusetts. As for the training itself, Schreiber reports that participating members feel it was extremely valuable, as mediation skills translate directly to all the negotiation involved in a real estate transaction. “They all put a lot into their certification, so it’s great that they’re feeling a return on the investment,” he notes.
To learn more about how the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® is encouraging leadership in its members and promoting housing stability through mediation, contact Jonny Schreiber, Legislative and Regulatory Counsel, at email@example.com.