Project NOW has 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. The goal of the program is to keep tenants housed while ensuring that small business owners are reimbursed back rent.

There is $1.3 million dollars available for tenants and property owners from Project NOW. All tenants and property owners are encouraged to apply for rental assistance as soon as possible as there is a delay in the processing of applications and the moratorium on evictions is no longer in effect. Since January 10th, the Sheriff’s office has evicted 6 households; 7 more are planned for this week and 3 are pending.

The Rock Island County program mandates mediations for all evictions. According to 14th Circuit Court Judge, Carol Pentuic, mediations may be held at the courthouse on the initial court date however remote mediations are still available. Mediation is free of charge. Pentuic says  upon completion of the mediation an agreement will be entered. If there is no resolution after mediation, the matter will be set for trial the next Thursday morning at 8:30am.

Illinois Begins Evictions Again, But Project NOW Can Help Residents Stay In Their Homes

Representatives from Prairie State Legal Services, Project Now and mediators are available at the Rock Island Courthouse every Friday to help tenants and property owners. Project NOW’s Executive Director, Dwight Ford, says he understands it has been a difficult and frustrating process for many, but since evictions are happening again, he encourages people to reach out to Project NOW. “We have more than one million dollars to invest in the community and there are mediators at the courthouse to assist in the application process.”

According to the 14th Circuit Court Judge Carol Pentuic– who has been spearheading this new program- the goal is to keep tenants housed while ensuring that small business owners are reimbursed back rent.  She is also concerned the courts could not handle the influx of cases, so this program is a win-win for everyone.

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Under a local court rule any landlord who files an eviction order will be notified of this new program and be required to do mediation before the matter is set for trial.  Pentuic says the hope is that cases can be resolved through alternate dispute resolution. Ideally, landlords and tenants would contact Project Now and the Salvation Army to receive rental assistance before the need for an eviction. However, if the parties have not done so, this program will provide the opportunity for the parties to access resources. In addition, many tenants will be eligible for free legal representation from Prairie State Legal Services should the matter not be resolved through mediation and has to go to trial. The mediators have received training and will be providing their services free of charge.

The program is partnering with volunteer attorneys. John Deere is generously providing volunteer mediators through Deere’s involvement with the Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI). At the time of the parties first court appearance, they will be referred to the program and will need to complete mediation within 14 days. That process will be done remotely, but the courts will provide computers to facilitate the mediation at the courthouse and the arbitration center for people who do not have internet access. Cases will be set for status within 14 days to verify compliance. Sanctions will be imposed for failure to participate. Cases that are not resolved through mediation will be set for trial when trial time becomes available. People are strongly encouraged to contact Project Now and the Salvation Army before the eviction process is initiated.

Illinois Begins Evictions Again, But Project NOW Can Help Residents Stay In Their Homes

Project NOW’s Executive Director, Dwight Ford says funds are currently available for rental and utility assistance. “If rent can be caught up prior to the eviction being filed, everyone benefits. We hope this program keeps people housed and relieves the strain on small business owners.” Cook County is the only other county in the state implementing this type of program designed to keep people in their homes while also paying landlords.

The rule as well as an eviction toolkit and an explanation of the program can be found on the Rock Island County Court Administrator’s website https://www.rockislandcounty.org/CourtAdmin/Home/

Illinois Begins Evictions Again, But Project NOW Can Help Residents Stay In Their Homes
Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.
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