Cuomo to ease requirements for rent relief

$60M in funds will be returned to federal government if not used by Dec. 30 deadline

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Getty, iStock)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (Getty, iStock)

The eligibility requirements for New York’s rent-relief program will be relaxed so that more can access the funds.

Details of the specific changes to the program were not provided, but sources said Gov. Andrew Cuomo would make the change via an executive order issued late Thursday or Friday morning.

The rent-relief program, which was passed in July, came under criticism from tenant groups who said the relief was insufficient. The first day the program was available, a flood of applications temporarily crashed the rental assistance website.

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Just 57,000 of the 94,000 applicants who sought relief were successful. Lawyers representing tenants warned that if the legislature did not act, the remaining funds — $60 million out of an initial $100 million — would go to waste. The funds were provided under the CARES Act and will be returned to the federal government if not spent by Dec. 30.

Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents landlords, said the amount of aid was small relative to the overall need, but still “good news” for property owners.

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The Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit which represents low-income tenants, criticized the state for waiting until the last moment to make changes to the program.

“Albany has just weeks to recalibrate this program to ensure that $60 million in resources reaches New Yorkers facing eviction and homelessness,” said Judith Goldiner, an attorney at the nonprofit. “This crisis was wholly self-made, the result of Albany waiting until the last second to act and then doing so only in the face of headlines and public pressure.”

Legal Aid, as well as other tenant advocate groups, said the program was flawed from the beginning, because of uneven access to the application process, strict eligibility requirements and insufficient relief.

Those groups instead advocated for bills which would cancel rent across the board for renters, and provide limited, means-tested aid to landlords.

Those bills, however, have not progressed since being introduced in the spring, despite a letter from state Sen. Michael Gianaris asking President-elect Joe Biden to cancel rent.