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State reopens rent relief applications in Brookhaven and Babylon

The Town of Huntington's Emergency Rental Assistance Program

The Town of Huntington's Emergency Rental Assistance Program Center opened in August 2021 in Greenlawn. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The state reopened COVID-19 rent relief applications Tuesday night in the towns of Brookhaven and Babylon, a move required in a court order issued last week.

The New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance closed its online application portal to Brookhaven and New York City residents in mid-November, when those communities spent their share of federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program money. The portal was later closed to Babylon residents when the town exhausted its funding.

A court ruled that OTDA must resume taking applications from every part of the state in a lawsuit brought by a nonprofit legal group in New York City. Although there may be no money left for new applicants, these tenants can't be evicted because of rent that they missed from March 2020 on unless they are deemed ineligible for aid, OTDA said. This protection may become more important after the state's eviction moratorium expires on Saturday.

Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding remains available in every part of Long Island, except Brookhaven and Babylon. The federal funds were set aside for low-income tenants who couldn't pay their rent because of hardship brought on by the pandemic. The assistance may cover up to 12 months of unpaid rent and three months of prospective rent. Payments are issued directly to landlords.

Landlords have filed relatively few eviction cases on Long Island throughout the pandemic. Roughly 4,900 eviction cases were filed in 2021, compared to 6,500 in 2020 and nearly 14,600 in 2019, according to the state Office of Court Administration.

Property owners are expected to file more cases and move forward with suits that were stalled by tenant protections put in place during the pandemic, housing attorneys said. Housing courts have been operating and seem prepared to handle an "uptick" in cases, according to Bradley Schnur, a Jericho-based attorney who represents landlords and tenants,

"It's going to be business as usual," said Schnur, adding the caveat that some matters may still be delayed by ERAP applications. "Unless the money is there, it kind of signals false hope to the parties involved, and it just delays things even more."

Some renters who did get ERAP may still be at risk of eviction because they weren't able to keep up with more recent rent bills, said Marissa Luchs Kindler, senior staff attorney at Nassau Suffolk Law Services, a nonprofit agency that represents those in need.

"We see unmet need across the board," Kindler said. "Unless the federal government can come up with more money, I think a lot of people are going to become homeless."

Gov. Kathy Hochul's administration said Tuesday that it was sending a second request for more funding to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. New York was initially awarded $2.4 billion. The state was granted another $27 million after Hochul previously sought an extra $1 billion.

Organizations helping with ERAP applications

Family Service League locations, including:

Bay Shore — 631-647-3104

Huntington — 631-385-2305

Mastic Beach — 631-874-1327

Riverhead — 631-591-7577

OLA of Eastern Long Island — 631-899-3441 or text 844-795-0043

Organizations helping with legal matters

Nassau Suffolk Law Services locations, including:

Hempstead — 516-292-8100

Islandia — 631-232-2400

Riverhead — 631-369-1112

Nassau County Bar Association —- covidhelp@nassaubar.org

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