After failing to shell out more than half of federal funding in a COVID-19 rent relief program, New York State has opened a new application window – with broader eligibility criteria – in order to distribute the remaining $ 60 million.
With lawmakers and activists concerned that unspent federal dollars could be returned, the state agreed to relax the requirement: Previously, applicants had to prove they were “chargeable on rent” – defined as paying more. of 30% of their income for rent – before the pandemic. Now, tenants will have to demonstrate that they were “subject to a rent charge” during the months of April to July, and that their household income before the pandemic was equal to or less than 80% of the median income in the area. to be entitled to partial payment of the rent.
The new application window will close at the end of January. Residents who requested rent relief earlier will not have to reapply to be reconsidered. In addition, all previously refused requests will be reassessed, according to the new criteria.
New Yorkers can register for the program online here.
In July, New York State Homes and Community Renewal (UNHCR) received $ 100 million from the state’s CARES Act to give them to eligible tenants, but the criteria were so limited that only 15,000 out of 94,000 applicants received a help. The average payment in the five boroughs was around $ 1,900 to cover partial rent payments over a maximum of four months (April 2020 to July 2020).
This has led housing activists and lawyers to label both versions of the program cruel. “The program doesn’t pay what people owe. It pays a complicated formula whereby people will continue to pay rent even though they have higher costs and lower incomes, ”said Ellen Davidson, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of New York.
And many New Yorkers are not allowed to apply regardless of their income due to immigration status requirements. Some non-English speakers may also have difficulty. According to Davidson, a tenant, Sonia Lachapel, called the state rent relief call center in late December and “she was told she should speak English on call and she was told. said she was not eligible because she did not have minor children. . ”
Brian Butry, a spokesperson for the state program, said, “We have zero tolerance for discrimination and we will thoroughly investigate this tenant’s claims.” Butry also added that there are call agents available who speak multiple languages and online material is available.
But, according to housing advocates, the combination of navigating the process, accessing the documentation, and trying to determine eligibility criteria is complicated, which can still mean that some of the most vulnerable tenants may not be. not get the help needed.
Some owners say the program has helped, despite a rough start. “It was a little frustrating at first; the program was slow to start, ”said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), which primarily represents rent-stabilized landowners,“ but we saw several thousand dollars in arrears and there has helped to some extent to keep families in their homes. There is still a ban in place on most evictions in New York State, but that ends on May 1.
Nationwide unpaid rent estimates range from $ 30 billion to $ 70 billion. The pandemic assistance bill approved by Congress includes $ 25 billion in emergency housing assistance, and Butry said, “We are awaiting federal guidance on how federal funding for rent reduction can be implemented. ”
New York is expected to receive at least about $ 1.3 billion from the recent federal allocation for rent relief.
“This money needs to be in the hands of the tenants as quickly as possible,” said Davidson of Legal Aid. “If we don’t spend it, it will be taken away and given to a state that does.”