When a tenant falls behind on paying rent, their landlord might file for eviction through the legal court process. The Eviction Diversion Program is a mandated program created to help landlords and tenants resolve their disputes outside of court before a filing occurs. Participants can get a housing counselor, mediator, or direct payment to cover the tenant’s owed rent (called arrears) through Targeted Financial Assistance (TFA).

All Philadelphians face high costs of living and comparatively low wages, but evictions occur most commonly in Black and brown communities in low-income neighborhoods. Serve Philadelphia VISTA member Ali Saribas and his supervisor Michal Bilick, the Municipal Court Liaison, support people in Municipal Court by making connections to City programs that can ease the burden on the courts. The connections also help landlords and tenants resolve their disputes without the trauma of an eviction.

When he first stepped foot into the Court, Ali started learning. Along with providing background support like writing emails and analyzing data, he quickly and eagerly picked up new information wherever he could.

“Ali has been valuable to us as we make policy decisions,” Michal says. Under the direction of the Data Analyst in the Programs and Policy unit, Ali contributed to an internal policy review about the arrears threshold in TFA. That led to expanding eligibility for financial assistance. He is also creating a visual representation of program data and guides landlords through the program application process.

“Every application has its own unique twist,” Ali says. “I’m talking with attorneys. I’m seeing new faces every other day.”

This VISTA project is the first of its kind to serve off-site at Court. It will run for two more years to build capacity for the Eviction Diversion Program and expand its support to other housing efforts in the Division of Housing and Community Development.  Ali looks forward to continuing similar housing and policy research at the University of Pennsylvania graduate school this fall. He believes his brief but impactful time as a VISTA helped him achieve this dream, which was on his mind for “almost a decade.”

We thank him for his service, and we look forward to seeing his future success!

Are you interested in continuing Ali’s work?