Members of the CIS Mediation team contributed to this article
The Bar Association of San Francisco’s Conflict Intervention Service (CIS) is a grant-funded project of the City and County of San Francisco in partnership with BASF’s Bay Area Mediation Services Program. This innovative program utilizes skilled mediators with diverse backgrounds in landlord-tenant law, psychology, addiction, mental health and housing conflict to resolve disputes in affordable housing that can lead to eviction or homelessness.
In its first year of existence, more than 95 percent of housing conflict matters handled by the service resulted in low-income people staying in their homes, removing the risk of homelessness.
CIS deploys innovative dispute resolution techniques to de-escalate housing conflicts. The overarching goal of the program is to keep those at risk for homelessness housed. The primary mission of CIS is to resolve conflict between housing providers and residents in affordable housing to avoid eviction, especially vulnerable populations including the elderly, families, veterans, persons with disabilities, and those who suffer from mental and behavioral health conditions. CIS manages conflict through a series of mediated approaches that includes shuttle mediation (a form of mediation where the mediator shuttles between parties in separate rooms, delivering proposals from one side to the other), conflict coaching, and facilitating difficult conversations, all supported by a CIS social service advocate. The CIS program responds rapidly and dynamically to any conflict that disrupts affordable housing communities, and wherever a vulnerable individual faces the potential loss of their home.
The talented and experienced team of CIS mediators includes experts with interdisciplinary backgrounds in restorative justice, mental health services, addiction, landlord-tenant conflict, public housing disputes, and online dispute resolution. Collectively, over 150 cases across San Francisco have been handled in the past year. Responding quickly to emerging conflict- even within a few hours – has allowed CIS to address a wide range of issues such as hoarding, poor resident and management relationships, noise complaints, and late payment issues. Addressing these conflicts compassionately with a sensitivity to mental and behavioral health permits CIS neutrals to provide a safe space for residents who otherwise may feel intimidated or scared to resolve their disputes.
This year, in an effort to expand, CIS will enter into partnership with the award-winning* Lower Polk Community Benefit District, its landlord-tenant clinic, and UC Hastings College of the Law.
CIS also seeks to pilot use of online mediation and conflict resolution processes. Eight CIS mediators have received training in the use of video teleconferencing software specifically designed for mediation and will use the technology platform in future mediations to gauge how technology can bring an even faster response to de-escalate conflict.
*Lower Polk CBD recently was recognized with the Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN) award for Best Merchant Association/Community Benefit District for 2017. Read about their work.