Kathy Hochul pledges to speed up rent relief

Newly sworn-in governor plans to hire additional staff to process applications and identify holdups

Kathy Hochul pledges to speed up rent relief rollout
New York’s 57th governor Kathy Hochul (Wikipedia, iStock)

Within hours of becoming New York’s 57th governor, Kathy Hochul vowed to speed up the release of more than $2 billion in federal rent relief.

Hochul on Tuesday said she plans to hire additional staffers to process applications for the state’s emergency rental assistance program, or ERAP, and is “assigning a top team to identify and remove any barriers that remain.”

“I am not at all satisfied with the pace that this Covid relief is getting out the door,” she said. “I want the money out — and I want it out now. No more excuses and delays.”

According to a press release distributed after her speech, the state will reassign 100 contracted staff members to work one-on-one with landlords on rent relief applications. The state will also dedicate another $1 million to marketing and outreach related to the program.

Hochul was sworn in after midnight on Tuesday, following the resignation of Andrew Cuomo.

Ahead of Hochul’s address, Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, said the new governor’s “most daunting and pressing task on day one” is to ensure the relief is distributed to landlords and tenants at “lightning speed.”

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“The new governor must understand that landlords and their tenants have been desperate for this financial lifeline since last year,” he said in a statement. “She must not allow New York lawmakers to continue to play politics with this process with the looming expiration of the statewide eviction moratorium.” The ban expires Aug. 31.

The rollout of ERAP has been plagued by technical difficulties and delays. As of earlier this month, only $100 million of the $2.7 billion in federal aid had been dispersed. According to Hochul’s office, the state has “either distributed or obligated more than $680 million in federal funding, including more than $200 million in direct payments to landlords” since it started accepting applications in June.

The agency charged with running the relief program, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, testified during an Aug. 10 hearing that much of the remaining funds would not be distributed before the state’s eviction protections expire at the end of this month.

During her speech, Hochul emphasized that landlords who receive funds through ERAP cannot evict their tenants for one year, though there are some exceptions. It is not clear if she will heed the call of tenant advocates and support extending the state’s protections beyond the end of this month.

On Aug. 12, Hochul said she would work with lawmakers to strengthen eviction protections after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a provision that permits tenants to self-report Covid-related financial hardship with a form as a defense against eviction. Although the state’s protections expire at the end of this month, a federal ban in high-Covid counties lasts through the beginning of October. Last week, real estate groups petitioned the Supreme Court to halt the latest federal moratorium.