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Lawrence eviction rates drop markedly a year into pilot program

A map from Princeton University's eviction lab showing the eviction rates of the Indianapolis area. (Photo aired on WISH-TV)

LATEST: Judge Kimberly Bacon announced Aug. 7, 2023, in an email to News 8’s Garrett Bergquist: “I just wanted to let you know that since you conducted my interview there has been an update. Unfortunately, we were not awarded the second grant for the other five courts so you may want to do update on the story. The 5 courts are still willing so we continue to look for other opportunities.”

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A small claims court judge said her participation in a nationwide pilot program has proven so successful, other Marion County judges want to join.

A little more than a year has passed since Lawrence Township’s small claims court received a $500,000 grant from the National Center for State Courts, or NCSC, to launch a pilot program to reduce evictions, one of a dozen courts nationwide to take part.

After receiving the grant, Judge Kimberly Bacon hired a facilitator to negotiate between landlords and tenants facing eviction. Court records show out of nearly 1,100 eviction filings between Jan. 1 and May 31 of this year, 979 were dismissed, nearly 90 percent.

Bacon says that means the landlord and the tenant in question were able to work out a way for the landlord to get paid and the tenant to keep their dwelling. She says this has numerous indirect social benefits.

“Children are not suffering the same impact, causing them to be homeless and be thrust into other systems that could be implicated, such as a loss of education,” she said. “Or even if parents are unable to sustain quality housing or housing that allows them to maintain their children without falling into the Child Protective Services System.”

A 2021 report by the IU McKinney School of Law ranked Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and South Bend in the top 20 U.S. cities for evictions. According to data compiled by Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, since July of last year, evictions in nearly every census tract in Lawrence Township have been below average, often by 10 to 50 percent.

Samira Nazem, the NCSC’s principal court management consultant, said while the organization doesn’t yet have hard data it can share, anecdotal evidence from participating courts suggests similar results elsewhere.

“We’ve already seen a number of situations where, by engaging with programs, landlords, and tenants are able to access rental assistance or legal services or mediation services that have allowed them to resolve their issue without having to go through the formal, adversarial litigation process,” she said.

Bacon says the program got some resistance from landlords at first, with some choosing to take eviction proceedings to Marion County Superior Court instead. She adds that resistance dropped once word got out about the success in securing payment. Bacon says landlords and tenants still have the option to go through traditional court proceedings if they so choose.

The initial grant from the NCSC is for two years with the possibility of a two-year extension, for a total program length of four years. Bacon said she expects to receive the funding for the second year soon and hopes to be approved for the extension afterward.

In the meantime, Nazem said the NCSC will announce a second cohort of courts taking part in the program later this summer. Bacon said the small claims courts of five other Marion County townships — Center, Decatur, Franklin, Warren, and Washington — have applied for funding.