NYCHA Seeks $ 124 Million In COVID Rent Relief

More than 5,000 NYCHA tenants have so far applied for rent assistance through New York’s COVID relief fund, prompting state officials and the public housing agency to begin work on a process streamlined bid to cover tens of millions of dollars in pandemic terms. arrears.

Adi Talwar

A New York City Housing Authority building in the Ingersoll housing complex near downtown Brooklyn.

More than 5,000 NYCHA tenants have so far applied for rent assistance through New York’s COVID relief fund, prompting state officials and the public housing agency to begin work on a submission process streamlined to cover tens of millions of dollars in arrears related to the pandemic.

But Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) applicants represent only a fraction of the total number of NYCHA households that have not paid their rent during the pandemic, housing authority records show. . As of June 30, NYCHA tenants owed $ 241 million in arrears, including $ 124 million accumulated since March 2020 and eligible for ERAP funds.

New York City’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) commissioner Michael Hein told state senators on Thursday that ERAP would pay private landlords before writing a check to NYCHA. He said the $ 2.2 billion fund would cover all pandemic-related back rent for NYCHA if there was enough money left.

“It is our great hope that this will happen,” Hein said in response to a question from Brooklyn Senator Jabari Brisport. “We understand the importance of this.”

OTDA and NYCHA have only recently started creating a submission process outside of the main application portal used by tenants and private building owners, according to lawmakers and the two agencies. But like other aspects of the rental assistance fund rollout, elected officials, tenants and their advocates say the NYCHA process should have offered more transparency earlier to applicants concerned about the status of their candidacy.

The federally-funded ERAP covers up to a year of rent arrears for low-income tenants, including social housing residents, who have missed their payments due to the COVID crisis. The slow-growing fund has so far allocated $ 156 million, or about 7% of the total, to homeowners after cutting the first checks to homeowners last month. Applications were opened on June 1.

ERAP is intended to stop evictions and bring homeowners free amid a historic public health and economic crisis. Some NYCHA tenants told City Limits they were concerned about the status of their ERAP applications because the public housing agency had not completed the owner’s portion or contacted them about the submission.

Sophie D., a resident of Pomonok Houses who asked not to use her last name, said she requested funds from the PIU because she missed her last three payments after being fired in July 2020. She said she was able to cover her family’s rent for several months despite the loss of income but reached a breaking point in May and could no longer afford the payments. She said she applied for the ERAP on June 3 but was unable to get a firm response from NYCHA, ERAP officials or state contractors on the status of her. demand.

“I am told that there are no documents and that there has never been a download by the owner. [It’s] a little confusing at this point now, ”she told City Limits on Thursday.

“It feels like a twilight zone moment, where you are stuck in between and unable to do anything,” she added. “Imagine those who don’t speak English at all, it must be like a total nightmare.”

A NYCHA spokesperson said the agency had completed the owner portion of more than 1,000 tenant ERAP requests in order to receive a refund from the state. Tenants are unable to check the status of the landlord’s request on the portal used by tenants in private buildings statewide, the spokesperson added.

“NYCHA and the state have a process in place to mass submit owner documents to NYCHA for pending tenant applications and have already submitted documents on behalf of over 1,000 tenants,” they said. declared. “Unfortunately, these bulk submissions occur outside of the state portal and therefore the request status for these submissions is not currently reflected in the portal, which tenants rely on to track their request. “

NYCHA advised residents who complete their ERAP application online to send their application number and date of birth to NYCHA at [email protected] so that NYCHA can identify and work on their application. The public housing authority said the new streamlined process will likely allow tenants to sign an agreement opting for NYCHA’s bulk submission, rather than having them complete the entire application process individually.

“NYCHA is committed to obtaining ERAP funding for eligible tenants and actively assists residents with the ERA program,” the agency spokesperson added. “To this end, NYCHA and OTDA have also worked to establish a streamlined process for its residents to apply to the program, which will likely be rolled out in the coming weeks.”

The process differs in developments converted to private management under the Federal Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). In these RAD developments, private property managers, known as Continuing Affordability Commitment (PACT) partners, are responsible for submitting the owner portion of the PIU application, NYCHA said.

NYCHA said staff sent ERAP instructions to 9,517 PACT households.

RAD conversions are intended to unlock funding for needed repairs in public housing complexes, subject to decades of city, state and federal divestment. But privatization has raised concerns about the increase in evictions. A City Limits analysis found that a RAD operator evicted tenants at a higher rate than the NYCHA average. The Ocean Bay Houses in Arverne were the first resort converted to private management through RAD and recorded more evictions than any other NYCHA campus in 2018 and early 2019, City Limits reported at the time.

State Senator Brian Kavanagh said NYCHA would almost certainly not evict residents because they could not pay rent during the pandemic, especially with the refund coming up. But he said the state should have established the mass application system earlier while educating NYCHA tenants about the various processes.

“There’s no time NYCHA was going to take action against people who couldn’t pay during COVID,” said Kavanagh, who sponsored the legislation to create the rent relief fund before it was included in the April state budget. “I and a lot of others thought it would be silly for NYCHA to provide a separate set of application documents for each tenant. “

Black and Latino New Yorkers make up over 90 percent of the more than 400,000 people officially living in NYCHA apartments, although the actual population may be closer to 600,000, with many residents not appearing on leases. .

Data recently released by OTDA highlights the impact of the COVID financial crisis on black and Latino tenants. In New York City, more than 46 percent of PIU applicants identified as black or African American, while about 38 percent identified their ethnicity as Latin or Hispanic. OTDA data does not take into account the overlap between people who identify as both.

OTDA also released postcode-level application data for each New York county. West Bronx ZIP code 10453 has the highest number of apps (3,177) in the state, followed by nearby Morrisania ZIP code 10456 with 3,011.

ERAP has been plagued with delays and problems since its deployment on June 1, although the state and its contractors have addressed some issues, such as the inability to save and resume a long request to a later date.

Yet nonprofits, tenant advocates and homeowner groups have highlighted persistent flaws for applicants across the state.

Catholic Charities Director of Operations Lakisha Morris on Thursday urged OTDA to continue consulting with vendors like her organization, which has received a municipal contract to help tenant requests, to improve the PIU.

“The Emergency Rental Assistance Program is a long-awaited source of hope and relief for those who have been victims of the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Morris said. providers to address concerns highlighted in the testimony of those present today, the state can help avert a looming eviction crisis and accelerate its social and economic recovery.

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