Author: David Brand, Posted in City Limits November 12, 2021
New York’s $2.4 billion rental assistance fund has nearly run dry, prompting state officials to scramble for a federal cash infusion to cover back rent for thousands of COVID-impacted tenants and landlords—including low-income New York City applicants currently locked out of the program.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday that the state had applied for a $996 million reallotment from the Treasury Department to cover existing applications and that officials will shut down the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) application portal to most new submissions Sunday.
The funding crunch comes at a precarious time for tenants and property owners, with eviction protections set to expire in just over two months. After a creaky start marked by delays, errors and inefficiencies, the ERAP program began to pick up steam in August, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars to New York landlords on behalf of low-income tenants who were unable to pay their rent as a result of the pandemic. Overall, nearly 280,000 households have submitted ERAP applications and the state has issued payments to 81,209 property owners since the portal opened June 1.
“While New York accelerated getting rent relief out the door and moved from the back of the pack to the front amongst other states, there are still many individuals in need of assistance,” Hochul said.
In the days before Hochul’s announcement, OTDA posted a warning on its website informing would-be applicants that ERAP funding was all but gone. The message encouraged applications only from renters and landlords in eight specific counties “where allocations have not yet been exhausted,” including Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester.
“While applications are still being accepted by OTDA, funding is not likely to be available except in the categories below,” the website states, above a list of the eligible counties. Renters making between 80 and 120 percent of Area Median Income (AMI)—$85,920 to $128,880 for a family of three in New York City—can also apply, the OTDA site states. State lawmakers enacted new eviction protections in September that also made funds available to higher-earning tenants struggling to make rent.
“The demand has not tapered off,” said Scott Auwarter, the assistant executive director of BronxWorks, which received a $5 million grant to help Bronx tenants apply for ERAP. “Our call center is as busy as ever. We are seeing an increase in the number of clients who have been denied ERAP assistance and are trying to figure out how best to handle the appeals process.”
He said he was not aware that the state was planning to suspend the portal. Another, new round of funding will be essential, he said, because many tenants won’t apply until they feel they are truly in danger of losing their apartment. In many cases, that won’t be for another two months, when state eviction protections expire on Jan. 15.
“The most effective notification to get some people to apply for this is an eviction notice,” he said. “I am very concerned that some of the most needy tenants have not yet applied and won’t until the eviction moratorium is lifted.”
New York’s Congressional delegation has sought to spur the federal government into action. Seventeen representatives from across New York sent a joint letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellon Friday supporting the state’s application and urging the feds to release the money. The Treasury Department posted a form for states to apply for additional relief on its website Oct. 25.
Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh said suspending new applications was a “catastrophically bad decision” because the submissions serve as a protection against eviction in Housing Court.
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