ALBANY (TNS) — A month after New York closed its rental assistance program, tenants who have struggled to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic continue to wait for funds to be released.
The state Division of Homes and Community Renewal, which is responsible for administering the COVID-19 rent relief program, received over 90,000 applications for assistance — but it remains unclear if any of the $100 million designated for the program have gone out the door.
“Our overriding concern is to make sure that the applications are going to get processed, people get notified, and the money starts to flow,” Manhattan Democratic Sen. Brian Kavanagh said. “We have no indication yet on how that is going.”
A Homes and Community Renewal spokesperson said staff is “working diligently” to process the applications, and are also following up with some applicants who may have errors or missing information.
”We want to ensure that residents aren’t disqualified from consideration due to a minor mistake on their paperwork that may include inadequately verifying primary residence; providing proper ID; demonstrating proof of loss of income, or typos in addresses and/or zip codes,” the spokesperson said. “We also ask landlords to be on the look out for emails and phone calls from our staff who may need further information for verification before any assistance can be paid.”
In order to qualify, an applicant’s household income must be below 80% of the area median income, adjusted for household size. A household must also be paying more than 30% of their gross monthly income towards rent, and have less monthly income in any month between April and July than they did before March 1 due to the pandemic.
For months, housing experts and advocates have warned of a looming housing crisis without fiscal relief for tenants and homeowners who are unable to make rent or mortgage payments during the public health crisis.
New York has an eviction moratorium in place through September, which prevents eviction proceedings for unpaid rent during the height of the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recently announced an eviction moratorium through Dec. 31 nationwide — however, it’s more restricted than the state’s moratorium.
While the state Legislature in June approved $100 million for rental assistance, many lawmakers recognized it would not be enough to meet the need. But New York may not be able to provide additional assistance unless the federal government provides more stimulus money.
“We’re anxious to see the result of this process. I think we will be very interested about who was eligible and who wasn’t and also the geographic spread of who is receiving aid,” Kavanagh said. “It’s important that people in all parts of the state have access to this.”
State officials who are familiar with the program, but were not authorized to speak on it publicly, said the largest portion of the funding is likely to go downstate where the rent burden is greatest.
The Times Union has submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for more detailed information on the disbursement of funds.
Where the funds go and who ultimately benefits from them is part of the data state legislators are seeking to understand the efficacy of the program and fine tune it going forward, Kavanagh said.
Beyond more money to keep New Yorkers in their homes, Kavanagh said the Legislature also needs to address the state’s eviction moratorium sunsetting in October. The senator has proposed a bill that would extend the moratorium to Jan. 20.
The state’s rent relief “program only covered April through July, so we obviously have additional rent since then,” he said. “The governor and legislature should address that for these applicants, and obviously there are many more tenants out there who wouldn’t qualify for this program that also need relief.”