Tenants and landlords ask Hochul to reopen requests for rent relief

Since New York State stopped accepting requests for pandemic rent relief, Catholic Charities and the nonprofits it works with to help tenants have put together a waiting list of 600 families in the city excluded from aid.

And even with the $ 2.7 billion in rent relief initially paid or allocated, the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents small and medium-sized landlords, estimates unpaid rent bills across the board. State total at least $ 1 billion.

Meanwhile, end of rent relief program threatens end of state’s moratorium on evictions on Jan.15 – most experts expect Hochul administration to allow evictions to resume as the second anniversary of the pandemic closure approaches.

“Closing the portal was a mistake,” said Ellen Davidson, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of New York. “What they say is they don’t want to give people false hope [by accepting new applications] but i think there is a way to let it be known that people who apply now may not receive rent relief but should apply anyway. “

Almost universal opposition to the state’s decision among tenant and landlord advocates and other experts represents what some see as one of the first major missteps of Governor Kathy Hochul, who took office. three months ago this week.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James is running for governor.
@ NewYorkStateAG / Twitter

The controversy could reverberate as she faces challenges from progressive candidates like State Attorney General Letitia James and public lawyer Jumaane Williams in the 2022 Democratic primary for governor.

The relief crisis began with the state’s surprise announcement on Friday, November 12 that it would stop accepting applications on Monday under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) of the State, which can pay rent arrears up to 15 months for New Yorkers injured by the shutdown. The state argued that it had no more money for the program.

As of Nov. 19, the state has paid homeowners just over $ 1 billion and has tentatively approved other claims totaling an additional $ 1 billion. Officials estimate that the PIU needs another billion dollars for pending applications and assistance to residents of social housing.

A story of misfortunes

The program got off to a rocky start under the government of the day. Andrew Cuomo with a complicated application process, the need to coordinate the filing of a series of documents by tenants and landlords, and numerous technological issues with the program’s website.

Hochul has promised to fix the program – and says things are going better.

“Since taking office in late August, Governor Hochul has worked hard to get pandemic relief in the hands of those who need it most – more than quintuple payments of rent relief and rent relief. putting New York City in a privileged position to receive additional funds from the US Treasury, ”said Anthony Farmer, spokesperson for the Office of Temporary Disability Administration, which is in charge of rent relief.

“New Yorkers continue to need emergency rental assistance and OTDA is committed to helping people recover from the economic devastation caused by the pandemic and stay in stable housing,” he said. he added.

Residential towers overlook Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills on November 16, 2021.

Residential towers overlook Queens Boulevard.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Tenant advocates say changes are not enough.

“We have clients who requested help in June and were not notified of their request,” said Lakisha Morris, director of operations for Catholic Charities Community Services, which the town hired to help tenants. to navigate the process.

There is no definitive study on the amount of unpaid rents in New York. The Community Housing Improvement Society, however, surveyed its members, mostly owners of small to medium-sized rent-regulated apartment buildings.

CHIP estimates that 100,000 overdue tenants statewide have not requested assistance and that they owe a total of about $ 1 billion.

Billion dollar flashback?

The federal government should soon reallocate money from states that have not distributed all of the funds they have received. Hochul has asked for an additional $ 1 billion – although closing the requests may backfire on that effort.

“What better way to get your point across than to show how many people are applying on a daily basis,” Davidson said. “Applications have never slowed down. “

Lawyers also note that a tenant is supposed to be protected from eviction while an application is being processed.

Tenant advocates protest impending eviction proceedings at Brooklyn Housing Court on August 6, 2020.

A demonstration last year calling for an extension of the moratorium on evictions.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

A coalition of 18 groups representing landlords, tenants and community groups released a statement last week calling on Hochul to reopen the portal. Only the Rent Stabilization Association did not sign the plea, saying the priority should be dealing with pending claims.

Some advocates have said Hochul has other options if the federal government does not step in.

She could add more money to the fund as the state’s tax revenue exceeded initial forecast by $ 7.6 billion through September. The state could also put more money into the Landlord Rental Assistance Program, which was funded with just $ 250 million. This program aims to pay rent for tenants who have not applied for assistance themselves.

Give “One-Shots” a shot

Tenants threatened with eviction may have their rent covered by so-called “one-off” assistance in which the city’s human resources administration reimburses the rent arrears as long as the landlord has taken legal action.

However, advocates note that the payments require tenants to demonstrate that they have the financial capacity to pay rent in the future and that the one-time payment is a loan and the city may eventually demand repayment.

The Hochul administration could take two more steps to alleviate the crisis, said Eric Lee, director of policy and planning for Homeless Services United, a coalition of nonprofit groups.

The governor could sign a bill that was passed by the legislature that increases rent levels to qualify for a separate rent assistance program for the Eviction and Homelessness Prevention Supplement (FHEPS).

This voucher is mainly used to prevent evictions of families with minor children, including survivors fleeing domestic violence, the main cause of family homelessness.

The administration could also support the bill that would abolish reimbursements for ad hoc agreements.

What lies ahead if the moratorium on evictions is lifted and no further help becomes available is clear to tenant advocates.

“Every day there will be stories in the media about someone losing their home,” Davidson warned.

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