“It’s crunch time” for Rock Island County residents facing eviction, the Quad Cities Eviction Coalition warned in a Thursday press conference.
But the good news, they said, is there still is $1.3 million available to help keep residents in their homes and to protect landlords from their losses.
“Our hearts hurt with the reality of so many people going through a tough time,” said the Rev. Dwight Ford, executive director of Project Now. “I want the public to know that the individuals who make up this team are bringing everything they have to try to mitigate this challenge.” The group is resolved, he said, to try to remove the burden that COVID-19 has “put upon the shoulders of so many.”
After the last federal prohibition on evictions expired, Rock Island County Sheriff’s deputies have been serving large numbers of eviction notices to those who are behind in their rent. Since Jan. 10, deputies have evicted 16 households and on the days the Rock Island County court hears eviction cases, there are 40 to 50 new cases on the docket, said Carol Pentuic, 14th Circuit Court judge.
Project NOW partnered with the 14th Judicial Circuit in Rock Island County, the Rock Island County Bar Association, Prairie State Legal Services, Inc., and the Salvation Army to develop an Eviction Diversion Program (EDP), which has been operating for months. Its goal is to keep tenants housed while ensuring that small business owners are reimbursed back rent.
Since it formed in 2019, the coalition has helped provide $1.2 million in state and federal COVID-19 relief funds to keep county residents in their homes. Ron Lund, Project NOW’s community services director, said so far the group has served 600 households and 1,400 individuals. The need for help, however, continues to grow and the coalition has worked to make it easier to get help than ever before.
Now that the moratoriums on evictions appear to have expired, however, renters and landlords are running out of time to get help. And doing nothing only ensures that they will be evicted, the advocates warned.
“We are at crunch time now,” Ms. Pentuic said. “There are no more moratoriums on any evictions. The process is speeding up, and it is speeding up quickly.”
“There are no more safety nets for people,” she added. That’s why it’s important to let the public, both renters and landlords, know that help continues to be available, Ms. Pentuic said.
Just as a renter who does nothing and fails to turn up in court for their first hearing will be evicted, a landlord will not be able to get any help from programs like the one in place in Rock Island County if the renter no longer lives on his or her property.
It’s also important to begin applying for help now, Ms. Pentuic said. And she warned anyone served with a notice of eviction to keep the court date on their notice. If renters don’t show, they will immediately be evicted. Meanwhile, just by showing up, renters in arrears can take advantage of mediation services from trained professionals who are located just outside of the judge’s office in the Rock Island County Courthouse.
The mediation services are free and they are required for all evictions. They are held at the courthouse on the initial court date. In addition, remote mediations are available by appointment If there is no resolution after mediation, the matter will be set for trial the next Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m.
Representatives from Prairie State Legal Services, Project Now and the mediators are available at the Rock Island Courthouse every Friday to help tenants and property owners. Both landlords and renters are encouraged to apply for rental assistance as soon as possible to ensure they can get the help they need before the renter is out on the street and the landlord loses back rent.
It’s also important to note, the coalition stressed, people are being helped. A majority of the cases coming before the courts in Rock Island County are being resolved by mediation, Ms. Pentuic said. But the process cannot begin until renters and landlords reach out for help.
“Don’t be overwhelmed by the process,” Rev. Ford said. “It all starts with a phone call.” In addition to visiting the help desk at the courthouse, those in need can call the Project NOW office at 309-793-6391 to schedule an appointment.