New York lawmakers get some answers on rent relief

State combing through applications to see if rejected tenants now qualify

RuthAnne Visnauskas (Twitter, iStock, by Alexis Manrodt for The Real Deal)
RuthAnne Visnauskas (Twitter, iStock, by Alexis Manrodt for The Real Deal)

Landlords and tenants expecting a rent relief check from New York state shouldn’t count on it before March, a state official said Tuesday.

The admission came as lawmakers questioned RuthAnne Visnauskas, the leader of the state’s main housing agency, at a state budget hearing.

Applications for the state’s second round of a rental assistance program implemented last summer were due yesterday. Visnauskas, who runs the Division of Homes and Community Renewal, told legislators it may take the agency a month to sift through the 15,000 new applications and begin to dole out the remaining $60 million.

The division is also reevaluating 90,000 applications from the first round, which ended last year, to see if any renters who were turned away now qualify — which would spell relief for their landlords, too.

Visnauskas attributed the shortcomings of the state’s first round of rent relief, which rejected most of the applicants, to “technical wonkiness.” The program was intended to aid only renters who could document their eligibility, based on pre-Covid rent burden and loss of income.

Crafting a simpler relief program is “key to managing expectations on the landlord and tenant side,” said Visnauskas.

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While the state works to distribute the rest of its own $100 million in rent relief, efforts are underway to parcel out $1.3 billion in federal funds earmarked for the same purpose. That program will be overseen by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, not HCR.

An OTDA spokesperson said that of the $1.3 billion in federal aid, $480 million will go toward fraud prevention and to gain efficiency.

OTDA supervises a variety of safety-net programs, including ones that pay for food and heat. It oversees the state’s child support enforcement and determines eligibility for Social Security benefits.

Tuesday’s hearing may have limited influence on the outcome of budget negotiations between the legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It is, however, one way to gauge what legislators are prioritizing, even if most will not be privy to the high-level talks.

Sen. Julia Salazar of Brooklyn and Assembly member Yuh-line Niou of Manhattan emphasized their support for a state-funded landlord hardship fund. That provision was included in legislation the pair introduced last year to cancel rent, a policy vehemently opposed by the real estate industry. It never came to a vote.

Legislators also expressed concern over whether landlords will be able to apply for rent relief on behalf of tenants. In the state’s first attempt at rent relief, landlords were not able to do so, but federal guidelines for additional rent relief mandate that landlords be allowed to handle the application paperwork if the tenant signs off.