By Princess Safiya Byers Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service Published Sep 10, 2022 at 6:01 PM

At the height of the pandemic, Franklin Colon said he lost his job because he had to stay home with his small children.

The single father of three started to apply for new jobs but had no luck. Afraid he and his children would be out on the streets, he reached out to Mediate Milwaukee for help.

“The mediators saved my life,” he said. “They walked me through the entire process from communicating with my landlord to applying for and getting rental assistance.”

That’s the premise of what Mediate Milwaukee does for its clients.

Mediate Milwaukee, 1915 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, is a nonprofit that provides free mediation services for tenants and landlords.

“The primary reason people reach out is because they are at risk of being evicted. But sometimes people reach out because they are having a dispute with their landlord or tenant and can’t communicate,” said Joanne Lipo Zovic, one of the organization’s mediators. “We work with everyone but prioritize those who are at risk of losing housing.”

The organization does this by bringing parties together.

“Mediation is a neutral safe space,” said Dean Fiorentino, a landlord. “They help us find a common ground and get a mutual understanding.”

Fiorentino said communication can be one of the biggest challenges he faces when working with tenants.

“Mediators are able to explain what I may be trying to explain to tenants without the emotions,” he said. “Honestly, I can say the exact same thing as mediators, but tenants respond better to it when it’s them.”

Also, he said, Mediate Wisconsin frames, in writing, what he and a tenant collectively agreed to – something he wouldn’t have the capacity to do otherwise.

Amy Koltz, the president and executive director of Mediate Milwaukee, said the nonprofit employs three paid staff and has a few volunteers. Last year, the organization received 1,200 applications for its services. So far this year, there have been 431 applications, she said.

Shawn Payne went through mediation with his property management company after losing his job and becoming unable to pay rent.

“We had come to an agreement, and I was on track to pay back, but I guess they (the property management) lost patience and filed an eviction,” Payne said. “I reached out to Joanne and explained the situation, and she switched gears and helped me get rent assistance, so I was able to stay in my apartment.”

For more information

If you think you need mediation with your landlord or tenant, you can apply here.

Resources to consult if you’re worried about eviction