Renters and property owners have $1 million available from a Rock Island County partnership among public and private entities and nonprofits.
As one of Illinois’ only county eviction-diversion programs, ProjectNOW advocates want Rock Island County renters and landlords to take advantage of the resources available to stay housed and help property owners keep their small businesses as Illinois’ moratorium on evictions is set to end Sept. 1.
Another $600,000 becomes available after the moratorium expires, said Dwight Ford, executive director of ProjectNOW.
“We're asking people: Don't wait until the moratorium is lifted," Ford said. "Let's see what we can do for you now. The whole part and the whole effort of the eviction diversion program is to keep people out of the court system."
The county-level program connects renters and property owners with aid and free attorneys, some volunteering from John Deere for mediation and others with Prairie State Legal Services. People looking for assistance or looking to spread the word about resources can call 309-793-6391 or visit the website to learn more.
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In a phasing-out of Illinois’ ban on evictions, beginning Aug. 1 evictions could be filed and initial hearings held in Illinois, but for renters who qualify, an eviction can't be enforced.
Starting Sept. 1, however, the state moratorium expires, leaving a federal ban as a protection for renters in locations with high COVID-19 transmissions, which includes the Quad-Cities. That ban has faced legal challenges by landlord associations and is swiftly making its way to the Supreme Court.
Ford urges renters and property owners in Rock Island County to seek local relief before the eviction moratorium ends to get ahead on backlogs of rent and keep people out of the court system.
According to 2019 Census Bureau estimates, there are about 19,300 occupied rental units in Rock Island County. Although ProjectNOW and eviction diversion program partners don’t know exactly how many people are in need of assistance, Ford said the program is expecting a “tsunami” of social need once the moratorium is no longer in effect.
Fourteenth Circuit Court Judge Carol Pentuic said she was hearing that landlords were waiting until the Sept. 1 date to actually file the evictions.
"Our sense is that there could be hundreds of evictions filed," Pentuic said.
Under normal circumstances, the court would get maybe 10-15 evictions filed a week.
Under a local court rule approved in February by the Illinois Supreme Court, any landlord who files an eviction order in Rock Island County must be notified of the eviction diversion program and is required to do mediation between themselves and the tenant before a trial is set.
But ProjectNOW is hoping tenants and landlords will take advantage of its resources available to settle payments even before mediation. With $1 million made up of different pools of funds with different requirements, both landlords and renters are encouraged to see what money they can qualify for.
“What we have is several streams that come together to make a very large tributary of opportunity,” Ford said.
Since the pandemic began, Ford said the program has doled out $740,000. The program does have its limitations, Ford said. They can't assist landlords whose renters have abandoned the property, for example.
Ford said, however, that there were likely people who didn't know about aid available or hadn't sought it out yet.
“We're having people sign up now give us a call now, simply because we know we're fastening down the hatches and we're trying every day to be fulfillers,” Ford said. “I don't think this is any stretch of the imagination — a tsunami of social need because we don't know how many are in the pipeline right now. We don't know how backlogged the courts will be. We don't know.
“What we do know is by volume alone the calls that we get that there are people that are in need of financial support.”
The Quad-Cities metro area is short 6,645 affordable units for extremely low-income households earning 30% or less of area median income, according to a Quad Cities Housing Cluster 10-year plan to address that gap released in August. Finding affordable housing can be even more difficult for people with evictions on their records.
The goal, Ford said, is to keep people in their houses and ensure landlords get paid for back rent. He described it as a "win-win" situation for everyone to receive aid.
"It is our understanding that housing is the anchor of all opportunities," Ford said. "The world opens up for individuals and households."