PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Hundreds of Rhode Islanders who are facing eviction as the coronavirus pandemic drags on will soon be given a reprieve, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Friday.

Raimondo said the state has created an eviction diversion program, called Safe Harbor, which will be administered through the United Way of Rhode Island. It will require both the tenant and landlord to agree to negotiate a new payment plan in order to avoid eviction.

“Anybody who went into the COVID crisis housing insecure, with low income, unemployed … is really struggling right now,” Raimondo said.

The state will assist the tenant in paying rent under the plan, using $7 million from the CARES Act. Money will also be available for tenants to have lawyers to help them in their eviction cases.

Rhode Island courts began hearing those cases again in June, but started with cases filed prior to March 17, before the economy shut down and an eviction moratorium was put in place.

Landlords were able to start filing new evictions on June 1, and a court spokesperson said 500 evictions have been filed since then, including for non-payment of rent and other reasons. The number of evictions that have actually been executed was not available Friday.

Cortney Nicolato, the president and CEO of the United Way of Rhode Island, believes the reported evictions are “merely scratching the surface.” She said even if 500 cases isn’t considered a large number, 500 families could include nearly 2,000 people at risk of losing their homes.

“These are kids who are worried where they’re going to lay their head the next night, whether they are going to have food on their tables, whether they’re even going to have a table,” Nicolato said.

Nicolato said the Safe Harbor program is needed now more than ever because housing issues often lead to additional problems when it comes to health, education and other aspects of life.

She also said Rhode Island already has a lack of affordable housing and was facing a crisis long before the pandemic hit.

“A third of Rhode Islanders were already what’s called ‘housing cost burdened,’ which means they were paying more than 30% of their income just for a roof over their head,” she explained.

Rhode Island is the only state in New England that doesn’t have permanently funded housing, according to Nicolato.

She said Raimondo’s budget proposed in January had numerous pieces to address housing issues, but that was all before the pandemic began.

Tenants who are behind in their rent because of COVID-19 and in danger of eviction, or who have already received an eviction notice, can call 211 starting Monday to be connected to the new program.

Steph Machado contributed to this report.