How desperate are tenants?
A program to provide rental assistance to some New York tenants launched today and was immediately overwhelmed by applicants.
The program, funded by the Coronavirus Relief Fund in the CARES Act, is administered by the Division of Homes and Community Renewal, the state agency overseeing New York’s rent-regulated housing.
After users reported the website had crashed, an agency representative acknowledged the site had “some issues with traffic,” and apologized via Twitter. By late morning the site appeared to be working, at least to screen out the ineligible.
A spokesperson for HCR said the difficulties were due to anti-fraud measures to limit multiple logins and were swiftly remedied. The spokesperson emphasized that applications will not be made on a first-come, first-serve basis, but will instead “prioritize households with the greatest economic and social need, accounting for income, rent burden, percent of income lost and risk of homelessness.”
The program, to which tenants can apply for the next two weeks, offers one-time assistance. To qualify, tenants must be primary residents in New York, earn below 80 percent of the area median income, have been rent-burdened before March 1 and be able to document a drop in income anytime from April to July.
For those tenants, the rental assistance program will cover the difference between their rent burden on March 1 and after the loss of income, for up to four months. The program is available for renters in apartments, single-family homes and manufactured housing.
“This rental assistance program, while still not enough to meet the tremendous needs that exist, is a step forward to lifting a financial burden off of our most vulnerable families,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a prepared statement. Public housing residents and tenants who receive federal assistance in the form of Section 8 vouchers are not eligible.
The rollout of the program comes just one month after the bill establishing it was passed by the state legislature.
Some tenant advocates opposed the measure, calling it insufficient because it did not cancel rent and people who work off the books would be unable to document their loss of income.