RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation to create a pilot program aimed at reducing eviction rates in Virginia.

The legislation is part of a push that began last year after a research group at Princeton University found that five cities in Virginia have some of the highest eviction rates in the country.

The pilot program will be launched next year in Richmond, Danville, Hampton, and Petersburg. The goal is to reduce evictions in those cities and collect data on the program's effectiveness to help develop methods for preventing evictions around the state.

SEE ALSO: Tackling the Hampton Roads eviction crisis

Tenants who meet certain criteria will be able to enter into a payment plan with their landlords to avoid a judgment of eviction. The plan will be facilitated through the court system.

Last month, Northam signed a package of bills aimed at reducing evictions by giving tenants more time to pay rent and fees ahead of an eviction notice and limiting the number of legal actions a landlord may file.

Christie Marra, an attorney with the Virginia Poverty Law Center, said the pilot program and other anti-eviction measures approved by the General Assembly this year are concrete actions that will provide some relief to tenants who find themselves threatened with eviction.

"It gives tenants extra time and it requires dismissal of the case, and that will definitely be helpful," said Marra.

The pilot program was created based on policy recommendations from the Virginia Housing Commission.

The Office of the Executive Secretary of the Supreme Court of Virginia will administer the program and collect data that will be used by the housing group to evaluate the diversion methods in the four pilot cities.

Additionally, the Virginia Housing Development Authority recently made available a free online renter education course titled “How to be a Successful Renter,” which covers the rights and responsibilities of renting.

A 2018 New York Times report shows the Hampton Roads area has one of the highest levels of eviction judgements in the nation.

Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk and Chesapeake make up the top ten cities on the list, based on data from 2016.