Long Island residents make up 14.57% of the state population, but have so far received just 5.73% of COVID-19 rent relief issued across New York.
New York spent $23.21 million on rent subsidies — including $613,631 in Nassau and $717,889 in Suffolk — through the COVID Rent Relief Program, a new report found. The program supports low-income New Yorkers whose earnings fell because of COVID-19 with one-time subsidy payments, which cover a portion of recipients' rent for up to 4 months.
New York Homes and Community Renewal, the state agency administering the program, would not disclose how many applications came from Long Island households, and how many of these were accepted.
Statewide, 9,611 subsidies have been issued, worth an average of $2,415, the report said. The average award in Suffolk County was $3,004; $3,147 in Nassau County.
Beyond the $23.21 million spent, the state has authorized $16.77 million through 5,411 subsidies pending payment, the report said. That means HCR has used about $39.98 million of the $100 million earmarked for the program.
HCR staff are still processing some of the paper forms and appeals, but have so far rejected a majority — 60.64% — of the roughly 94,000 digital and paper forms received statewide, the report said.
Although about $1.33 million was sent to Long Island, accessing it has been particularly difficult for the most vulnerable tenants, according to Cheryl Keshner, senior paralegal/community advocate at the Empire Justice Center, a nonprofit legal service organization.
"They just are having a very hard time being able to meet all of the eligibility criteria," said Keshner, a Bellmore resident.
Renters encountered hurdles at the onset of a 2-week window to submit 14-page forms and supporting documents. The digital application tool crashed within hours of launching. Groups working with immigrants urged the state to make the process easier for non-English speakers, and successfully pressured the state to push the deadline back one week.
Of the roughly 30 clients with whom Keshner discussed the program, only two seemed likely to qualify and applied. One family was rejected because its landlord would not supply necessary information, and Keshner is unsure if the other received aid.
For several Long Islanders, the $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits provided through July posed a problem, Keshner said. Their income temporarily rose above their pre-COVID earnings, and households must have suffered a financial loss to be eligible for the program. To qualify, New Yorkers also needed to have spent at least 30% of their monthly income on rent before the pandemic, and to have at least one citizen or person with eligible immigration status in their household.
Another nonprofit firm, Nassau Suffolk Law Services, has seen clients’ applications advance, but believes the aid may not be sufficient, according to spokeswoman Vivian Storm. The subsidies, which are given directly to landlords, ensure renters pay the same portion of their income in rent before and after suffering financial hardship.
"It may end up being a debt reduction program, rather than a housing preservation program," said Storm, a Huntington resident.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, chairman of the Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee, said the state should assess how to use the remaining $60.02 million set aside for subsidies.
He also hoped that New York can craft a more comprehensive rent relief program by 2021 and fund it with additional federal money. Under eviction moratoriums, tenants who have suffered a financial hardship due to COVID-19 can’t be evicted for nonpayment of rent until 2021. These renters would still be responsible for accrued back-rent.
"We said from the very beginning, when we passed the bill, that this program was not nearly large enough or comprehensive enough to cover the enormous need," Kavanagh said.
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