Mediating housing crises in Cambridge

In her job as a mediator and housing stabilization coordinator at Just-A-Start, Tessa Tompkins Byer, MA COEX’16, NGF Fellow, can usually be found in Malden, Chelsea or Woburn district courts or in Cambridge mediating conflicts between landlords and tenants. She says her role can be challenging, yet rewarding. Just-A-Start is dedicated to building the housing security and economic stability of low- to moderate-income people. 

While attending the Heller School, Byer was inspired by the mediation role-plays she witnessed in professor Ted Johnson’s class, so she searched the local area for volunteer opportunities with a strong desire to apply her new skills. In February 2015, she was trained as a mediator through the Harvard Mediation Program, a group made up of community members and Harvard law students. After completing the program, she had the opportunity to train the next group of mediators and also joined the Harvard Mediation Program’s board.

At Just-A-Start, Byer was hired for her conflict resolution skills. Her work in Cambridge can be the most difficult. Conflicts regarding housing can be between tenants and landlords, family members, neighbors and even the housing authority. She helps residents receive federal funding if they are in the process of being evicted or need back-rent or security deposits, and prevents people from being homeless. The hardest part of her job is knowing that her clients might lose their homes in a few days.

What’s her advice to young professionals? Be confident and stand your ground, no matter who you’re working with, be it lawyers or local residents. The reward of helping someone keep their housing motivates her every day.