New York releases rent assistance, lawmakers say it’s not enough

ALBANY, New York – New York State sent just $ 117,000 in rent assistance funds for the coronavirus pandemic to help bail out struggling landlords and tenants on Thursday, and lawmakers say that that’s far too little as the moratorium on state evictions approaches.

The Legislature plans to hold a hearing soon on the slow rollout of the state’s $ 2 billion rent relief program, which has been hampered by a series of website issues and hotline workers hurt trained.

Senator Brian Kavanagh, the Democrat who chairs the Senate housing committee, said the state must act now to deal with complaints.

“They really have to meet the huge human need to make sure people can have reasonable confidence that this program is going to work. They are due to be receiving large numbers of payments soon,” Kavanaugh said.

Renters and landlords across the state have sounded the alarm bells about the program’s failure to quickly provide help to vulnerable New Yorkers.

Until this week, New York was the only state that had not distributed money from the federally funded rent relief program since January, according to US Treasury data released Thursday.

The program is supposed to distribute assistance to low and moderate income tenants who have encountered financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuomo estimated that the program could help up to 200,000 households.

The state office for temporary help and people with disabilities, which administers the program, said it plans to send more relief money by the end of the week.

“The test payments were made on Monday and we are now poised to safely and efficiently deliver billions of dollars in rental assistance to New Yorkers after opening the program to applications within weeks of its enactment in April. “, according to agency spokesperson Anthony Farmer.

New York launched its online-only application portal on June 1, with the aim of prioritizing particularly vulnerable New Yorkers who applied within the first 30 days.

But the website was awkward. Users cannot start an application and continue with it later. Other issues included messages stating that users could not download documents or apps that would be erased if users changed languages.

Tenants, landlords, and nonprofits who have received government funds to help rent relief seekers say hotline workers offer conflicting advice and are often unable to resolve website issues. .

Some candidates continue to report bureaucratic obstacles. Debbie Stephens, a 62-year-old pulmonary fibrosis survivor from Brooklyn, said she is now receiving notices from the state giving her just seven days to resubmit documents she previously filed online.

“At the end of the day what I think is they don’t care,” said Stephens, whose family is asking for $ 10,000 in rent assistance.

There is also no appeal process for tenants and landlords who feel they have been inappropriately denied a repair.

“It created a feeling of hopelessness,” said Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, a Democrat. “Not just because of the money, but the overwhelming feeling that everyone is stuck and can’t move on.”

Some lawmakers say they have questions about the performance of consultancy firm Guidehouse, which was awarded a $ 115 million contract to launch the application portal and manage the workers who determine candidate eligibility.

The New York eviction moratorium expires on August 31.

Once the moratorium is lifted, tenants who have requested assistance but are awaiting a decision will still be protected from eviction.

New York had another rent relief program last year, but the state’s housing agency only distributed $ 47 million of the $ 100 million of available federal funds.

A spokesperson for US Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, called on New York to act quickly.

“Senator Schumer urges New York to do everything in its power to get the money back to tenants immediately, as we may lose these hard-fought and desperately needed funds after September,” said spokesperson Allison Biasotti.

A spokesperson for the Treasury Department told The Associated Press it will use whatever tools it has to help struggling tenants, including reallocating funds that were not spent this fall.

READ ALSO | Tens of thousands of New Yorkers move to Florida during COVID pandemic

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