Head of NY’s rent relief program resigns

Departure of Michael Hein comes as Hochul purges Cuomo-appointed officials

Michael Hein, Commissioner of the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, iStock)
Michael Hein, Commissioner of the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, iStock)

Michael Hein, commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and the man in charge of New York’s bungled rent relief program, resigned last week, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Hein was on the chopping block as Gov. Kathy Hochul moved to purge agency heads appointed by her predecessor Andrew Cuomo, the New York Post reported. Hein was one of nine state bureaucrats facing the axe.

The former commissioner, speaking to Daily Freeman last week, declined to comment on his departure, but said he was “very pleased with the work our team is doing to help people who are in need” and “looking forward to continuing to serve my community in some way.”

Neither Hein, nor OTDA, nor the governor’s office responded to a request for comment.

Hein joined the agency in June 2019. The last four months of his tenure were marred by the office’s inability to quickly release rent aid to property owners in need.

When Gov. Kathy Hochul took office in late August, a mere $200 million of the emergency rental assistance program’s $2.7 billion pool had reached landlords, though the ERAP portal had been open for two months and the state legislature had held two hearings on the botched rollout.

On her first day as governor, Hochul promised to kickstart the program by appointing a “top team to identify and remove any barriers that remain.” One of those barriers, in her view, was Hein.

“No more excuses and delays,” the governor said in her inaugural address. She hired 100 staffers to work one-on-one with landlords on getting applications through.

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OTDA and Hein have faulted federal requirements for the program’s delays. ERAP requires both the landlord and tenant to complete an application for funds to be dispersed.

As of Sept. 22, the state had set aside $1.6 billion in funds for property owners. Only about one-third of that money has actually reached landlords.

Still, New York ranks first in the nation for payments made or obligated, a position that should qualify the state for additional funds. Under the federal legislation, any state that does not obligate 65 percent of the first tranche of ERAP funds can have the money pulled back as of Sept. 30 and recommitted to localities where relief is still needed.

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Hochul sent a letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Sept. 21 requesting that the Treasury redirect unobligated funds to New York.

The governor added that ERAP allocations, calculated using a per-capita formula, did not consider that New York has a high percentage of renters. About half of the state’s homes are renter-occupied, according to 2017 data from the state comptroller’s office, compared to 30.8 percent nationally, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s office has defended the per-capita funding formula, saying it brought an unprecedented amount of rent aid to New York. But on a per-tenant basis, it was far less than other states received, and some of their money has gone unused.

Neither the Hochul administration nor the Treasury Department has announced whether New York has more money coming its way. The governor expects the state to commit all of its funds by early October.