The Mountain Mediation Center, a local conflict resolution nonprofit, has hired a new outreach coordinator for the area’s Spanish-speaking community and is preparing for the possibility of mass evictions after the expiration of federal and state moratoriums on the issue.
The Mountain Mediation Center for Summit and Wasatch counties operates with just four part-time staffers and several volunteers. Its mission is to serve the residents of the Wasatch Back by helping prevent and resolve conflict outside of a courtroom.
Its work came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March. But executive director Gretchen Lee says when small claims courts started to see a backlog of cases, the center restarted its work in mid-May with free mediation sessions via Zoom on Wednesdays.
Lee said that the number of requests for family mediation services started rising about a month ago.
A shortfall of the center has been in difficulty helping the community’s Spanish speakers, so the center recently hired Lirio Sanchez – Park City native just received her accounting degree from the University of Utah – to work about 15 to 20 hours a week.
“My community and especially helping my Latino community has always been really important so I was really excited about this position,” Sanchez said. “And as I got to learn more about Mountain Mediation and the services that they provide I felt like this was something that could be very beneficial for the Spanish-speaking community.”
On Aug. 22, the center is hosting an online discussion with the Spanish speaking community on reimagining the justice system and restorative justice. Sanchez says they hope to bring more awareness to the Latinx community and answer questions that viewers may have. The event will be held live from 10:30 a.m. to noon on the Mountain Mediation Center’s Facebook page.
Two panelists will participate including a policy analyst for Voices for Utah and a counselor at East High School in Salt Lake City.
Lee says the Park City community has done an incredible job helping people in need of rent assistance. And so far, she says they are not yet seeing many evictions filed at the 3rd District Courthouse.
The state’s moratorium on evictions expired in May and the federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July. But Lee says landlords have to wait 30 days before they can file an eviction – so Lee expects to see more by the end of the month and is preparing for it.
“So we don't know really what's going to happen, but in the meantime we've been preparing our – we've got a small group of small claims court mediators who are interested in landlord-tenant mediation and some of them have real estate backgrounds and so we as an organization have started some roundtables with them,” she said. “You know, just to make sure that they are up and running if and when we’re called upon at the court to need to help mediate those cases.”
The mediation center also offers its services to smaller landlords.
“We can help landlords, particularly smaller landlords, that deal with tenants more on a one-on- one basis, help renegotiate leases with their tenants so you know they're workable leases on both sides recognizing that the landlords have bills to pay and perhaps the tenants aren’t in any position to pay their full leases,” Lee said, pointing potential landlords and tenants in need of service to the organization’s website. “And then if they have problems from there, we have got mediators ready to go and thanks to some funding from our other community organizations, we are able to do this at no charge.”
A second bilingual conversation on reimagining justice, she says, will be held in September.