New NY Rent Fund sees website issues, but tenants hope – NBC New York


What there is to know

  • Advocates hope New York’s revamped rent relief program will finally help tenants and landlords struggling to get help since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • In New York City alone, tenants owe at least $ 1 billion in rent arrears. It’s unclear if New York’s new $ 2 billion fund will do enough to help New Yorkers most vulnerable as the state’s moratorium on evictions nears expiration on August 31.
  • People can only apply for relief online, and the website has crashed in recent days and weeks

Tenants and their lawyers are hoping New York’s revamped rent relief program will finally help tenants and landlords who have struggled to get help since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paperwork requirements have made it difficult for tenants and landlords to secure relief funds in a previous round of pandemic aid.

Last year, New York City spent $ 100 million from the federal CARES Act on rent relief and received 94,000 applications. But he ended up rejecting most of the candidates.

It has distributed $ 47 million so far to 18,000 applicants, far less than authorities hoped to achieve.

Now it has a new $ 2 billion fund, passed in April, but people can only submit applications online and the website has collapsed in recent days and weeks.

Ernesto Tohom, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala studying commerce at Baruch College who lost his job at a delicatessen last year, said the state rejected his request for rent relief last year because he could not provide any documents proving that he had lost his job, which was off the books.

The Ithaca Tenants Union is trying to get rents canceled in their city, where the unemployment rate is 11%. Group co-founder Liel Sterling and organizer Sam Kwan explain their strategy and how others can do the same in their own towns and villages.

This year he is trying again thanks to expanded eligibility criteria – which does not take into account immigration status – but has not been able to submit the required documents because this part of the website has malfunctioned each time. that he tried to load it.

“It would mean a lot,” said Tohom, who owes its owner $ 7,500. “Because to be honest, I don’t know how I could afford the rent. “

In New York City alone, tenants owe at least $ 1 billion in past rents, according to a survey of rent-regulated apartments by the Community Housing Improvement Program, a professional group of landlords.

This year, New York launched a new program with more than $ 2 billion in mostly federal funds to help tenants pay unpaid rents, utility payments and other expenses. Chicago-based supplier Guidehouse, Inc. has been awarded a $ 115 million contract to manage the new rental relief fund.

Rents in New York are dropping, even as lease signatures jump dramatically. Lynda Baquero reports.

The state has yet to distribute funds. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration said at least 110,000 people applied and it could take four to six weeks to process full applications. Payments will go directly to the owners.

New York has imposed a moratorium on evictions until August 31. Tenants can still be protected from eviction after the law expires, but only if they submit a request for rent relief.

New York issued a request for tenants and landlords to complete on June 1 – nearly two months after lawmakers approved funding in the state budget.

New York was one of eight states without an operational relief program as of mid-May, according to the Legal Aid Society.

“It took a while, and it’s disappointing how long it took,” said staff attorney Eileen Davidson. “You know, when you look across the country, I think a lot of places have had a hard time creating these programs and getting them up and running to get the money. “

Sales of existing homes fell for the third consecutive month in April as the number of properties for sale hit an all-time high, pushing prices to new highs.

Samuel Stein, housing policy analyst at the New York-based Community Service Society, said the most vulnerable people are less likely to have the internet or an email address and / or the time or IT skills to spend hours refreshing a faulty page.

Stein said some translations are of poor quality, especially for Bangladeshi speakers. He asked why advocates can’t just print hard copies and help multiple people at once.

“In some ways it’s simpler, but it’s still way too complicated,” he said.

Cuomo’s administration did not provide The Associated Press with details on why there is no paper application option, or exactly why it has taken so long for the new fund to be operational. .

But officials said the state moved quickly on the rollout, and said it took time to translate the apps into eight languages ​​and work with local governments on outreach, app support and enforcement. anti-fraud prevention. Applicants can call the state hotline for assistance completing the application over the phone.

A customer service agent contacted via the website’s live chat feature said Friday that “many other callers have the same problem” with uploading documents and “the website is currently experiencing some malfunctions.”

And Tohom shared a photo from the website on Monday that read, “The page is currently unavailable, please try again later.”

Office for Temporary Disability Support spokesperson Anthony Farmer denied that the document download feature was down.

“Minimal technical issues are quickly resolved as they are encountered, and the application process continues,” he said.

New York lags behind other populous states: Texas, for example, paid $ 388 million to 61,000 households.

Last year, heads of state set aside at least $ 2.6 billion in COVID-19 relief, but a year later, more than $ 425 million of that – or 16% – was not not in the pockets of tenants or their landlords, according to a survey by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press.

New York-based construction management firm Liro Engineers was awarded a $ 12 million contract to staff a call center and provide translation services for the company’s original rent relief program. State.

Davidson said New York’s previous program last year was “poorly implemented and poorly managed” and hampered by overly strict eligibility rules. Tenants, for example, had to prove they were “rented out” before the pandemic to be eligible.

Charni Sochet, spokesperson for the state’s affordable housing agency, said the original program was “designed by the legislature” and “all eligible households” have received assistance. Cuomo’s administration has not specified how it plans to spend the remainder of the $ 100 million in federal money it has received, which can be used for all costs related to COVID-19.

Davidson said the situation created “an incentive for the state not to pay everything, because then it could take that money and use it for something else.”

This year, New York can only use the new federal funds for rent relief.

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