State pulls the plug on rent relief

Gov. Hochul has asked for almost $1 billion in additional funding

Gov. Kathy Hochul (Getty)
Gov. Kathy Hochul (Getty)

New York’s portal for emergency rental assistance will stop accepting new applications Sunday night, shutting out potentially hundreds of thousands of landlords — and their tenants.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, in a press release Friday afternoon, said the state had earmarked virtually all of the $2.4 billion in available funding to applicants and had requested another $996 million from the Treasury Department.

Absent that federal infusion, the portal will close to new applicants at 10 p.m. on Nov. 14, according to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

With 278,700 applications submitted and only 168,000 households approved, the decision means more than 100,000 will get nothing from this potentially last round of funding.

The Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord group, estimates that at least 162,000 additional renters in the state have yet to apply.

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Hochul’s announcement drew criticism from landlord groups and tenant attorneys alike. Even if the funding is exhausted, keeping the portal open would help the state gauge the remaining need, they argue.

The Community Housing Improvement Program applauded the governor’s request for more funding but emphasized that $996 million is far from enough.

CHIP’s Jay Martin

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“More than 100,000 New Yorkers with significant rent arrears have not yet applied for ERAP,” said Jay Martin, CHIP’S executive director, referring to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The trade group estimates the state’s total rent debt is near $6 billion, or twice what New York would receive if the governor’s request were approved.

“Those renters, and their housing providers, will be in serious trouble if the government doesn’t take further action,” Martin added. “This is why the state needs to implement a permanent rent assistance program to protect tenants and owners.”

Judith Goldiner, attorney at the Legal Aid Society, said while the state will likely qualify for the nearly $1 billion requested, shutting down the portal risks problems at relaunch. The ERAP rollout was mired by a glitchy application system, unclear requirements and an unhelpful helpline, landlords said.

“This move is premature, and closing the ERAP portal with demand for relief still high will traumatize our clients still in need of these critical funds,” Goldiner said in a statement.

The Legal Aid Society said it expects the portal to not open again until after the eviction moratorium expires Jan. 15, leaving families vulnerable to losing their homes. Just applying for relief can be used as a defense in an eviction case.

And despite the 81,000 payments that Hochul said had been issued to landlords, many of those owners have not been made whole. Of the $2.1 billion the state set aside for property owners, only $1.02 billion has hit bank accounts.

Jerry Waxenberg, who has an ownership interest in 850 rental units concentrated in the Bronx, submitted 75 applications to recoup over $1 million in arrears. On Nov. 1, he was still awaiting payment for 30 units.

The state did exempt some renters from the portal closing. Tenants in a number of counties outside of New York City — Westchester among them — will still be permitted to apply. Those counties will be removed from the list as funds are exhausted. Households between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income will also remain eligible.

And landlords can still apply for a supplementary $125 million rental assistance program, deployed last month, through Nov. 20. However, a state website said those funds are fully committed “and all applications submitted may not be funded.”

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