Landlord lobby fractures over reopening rent aid portal

REBNY, CHIP and tenant groups say yes, but RSA calls it “pointless”

From left: RSA's Joseph Strasburg, CHIP's Jay Martin, REBNY's James Whelan and Gov. Kathy Hochul (Getty, iStock)
From left: RSA's Joseph Strasburg, CHIP's Jay Martin, REBNY's James Whelan and Gov. Kathy Hochul (Getty, iStock)

Since Gov. Hochul cut off most applications for the state’s nearly exhausted rent relief program late Sunday, city landlord groups have split on whether she should reverse the move.

On Team Reopen: the Real Estate Board of New York and the Community Housing Improvement Program.

On Team Why Bother: the Rent Stabilization Association.

REBNY, as a member of Project Parachute — a coalition of city property owners and housing advocates formed to keep vulnerable renters in their homes during Covid, according to its website — released a joint statement Tuesday that dialed in on the tenant-side benefits of opening up the portal.

The coalition noted that renters who apply for the aid are shielded from eviction, a crucial protection once the moratorium lapses Jan. 15, and that a reopened portal would allow the state to track how much rent debt remains.

A clear sense of the state’s total arrears would surely benefit landlords as well. Among larger landlords, many who applied when the program first opened are still waiting on checks for many of their indebted tenants.

On Friday, Hochul announced she had requested another $996 million in federal rent relief, which would bump the state program’s total budget over $3 billion.

CHIP, which said in a statement that the program “should never have been shut down,” has warned that the state’s total need is closer to $6 billion.

Even considering Hochul’s latest ask, Project Parachute said the program is underfunded and with the portal closed, it will be difficult to gauge by how much.

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“The money that the state has requested will — at most — only cover those who have already applied,” the coalition said in a statement.

Jay Martin, CHIP’s executive director, estimated that more than 100,000 New York tenants are still in need. If the government does not step in, he warned, they could be plunged into “deep debt for the rest of their lives.”

“That is not acceptable,” he said.

REBNY, as a part of Project Parachute, did concede that an open portal with no funding could create a backlog of applicants — renters and landlords in limbo, “which would create additional logistical challenges,” a spokesperson for REBNY said.

The Rent Stabilization Association, whose members own rent-stabilized buildings, took the criticism a few steps further, saying a portal with no money to offer is “pointless.”

Joseph Strasburg, its president, said energy should be concentrated on processing the “tens of thousands of pending applications and moving the already allocated funds out the door.”

As of Nov. 9, just over half of the $2.1 billion approved had actually made it to landlords, according to the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. More than 86,000 applications are awaiting landlord verification.

“The portal should be reopened only if the state has a commitment from the U.S. Treasury for additional funds,” Strasburg said.

While Hochul has now put a dollar amount to the funding needed, in mid-September the state had requested the U.S. Treasury send more money. The governor’s office did not announce whether it received a response to its initial request. It did not respond to a request for comment on whether Hochul planned to reopen the portal.

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