A state program to provide relief to renters facing financial hardship reopened today, ahead of a fast-approaching deadline to use the federal funds.
The slight expansion of the program comes after a report from the agency showed that more than half the applications for relief were denied — and only $40 million of the available $100 million in federal funding had been doled out. The state was faced with the possibility of losing the federal funds if it did not use them before the end of the year.
In order to qualify, applicants must be rent-burdened, have lost income between Apr. 1 and July 1, and have a household income that’s at or below 80 percent of the area median income. If successful, tenants can receive the difference between the household’s pre-Covid rent burden and the household’s rent burden during the months of April, May, June and July.
The changes to the program, which the Division of Homes and Community Renewal is responsible for administering, were more than two weeks in the making.
Numerous lawmakers and tenant advocates had called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to finalize the changes. Representatives for landlords also criticized the delay in handing out the federal funding. Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, said in a statement ahead of the program’s expansion that the possibility of letting the funds go to waste was “unconscionable and inexplicable.”
In a press release Thursday evening, HCR commissioner Ruthanne Visnauskas said that the agency is “acutely aware” of the pressure the pandemic has placed on households that were already struggling, and that this expansion of the program will build on existing measures to provide rent relief.
“We worked around the clock for months to ensure rent-burdened households received the assistance for which they qualified,” said Visnauskas. “But more can be done.”