Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. 

Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.  Credit: Morgan Campbell

The Town of Brookhaven is reallocating nearly $1.5 million it had planned to spend administering a federal rent relief program and using the money for assistance payments.

Brookhaven exhausted its roughly $29 million share of Emergency Rental Assistance program funding in mid-November, according to the New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which is distributing the aid on behalf of most localities in the state. The federal government allows state and local governments to put up to 10% of their first rent relief award and 15% of their second award toward administrative costs.

Brookhaven spent administrative funding publicizing the program through ads and mailers, as well as paying staff and social service agencies to help tenants and landlords with applications, Town Supervisor Edward Romaine said. He said last week that the remaining $1.49 million would be better spent directly on relief, which his office believes may help another 80 to 100 households.

"We were out of money like one, two, three," Romaine said. "We just don't have enough money to finish [meeting demand], so we cut back on our administrative costs so we could put more into the program."

The bulk of Emergency Rental Assistance money must be used to aid low-income tenants who suffered a financial setback during the pandemic. The town's decision doesn't require state approval, and the $1.49 million will soon be available for rent relief in Brookhaven, OTDA spokesman Justin Mason said.

To qualify for assistance, tenants must earn no more than 80% of the annual median income, which is currently $94,900 for a family of four on Long Island. The money may cover up to 12 months of missed rent and utility payments and three months of upcoming rent. Payments are sent directly to landlords and utility providers.

Nearly 1,290 households have qualified for assistance in Brookhaven, with payments averaging about $16,970, according to OTDA data current through March 1. The state has received nearly 3,690 applications for help with unpaid rent in Brookhaven, the data shows. OTDA couldn't provide a breakdown of what happened with the other 2,400 applications, but said some were denied, some were awaiting additional information and others were not being processed because of insufficient funding.

Qualified applications will be prioritized by date, with the oldest submissions benefiting from the $1.49 million first, OTDA said.

The number of renters reaching out to the town for help has grown since a moratorium on evictions expired in January, Romaine said. Although funding is limited, Brookhaven residents may still apply for Emergency Rental Assistance and can't be evicted while their paperwork is processed. Earlier this year, a lawsuit forced the state to reopen applications in Brookhaven and other communities that had exhausted their rent relief funds.

"We are hearing from more desperate people," Romaine said, noting that the job market has changed and transportation issues may become a bigger hurdle because the county is proposing cuts to bus service. "They're running out of options."

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