Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Monday that the state is relaxing documentation standards for rent relief applications, but by late Tuesday, Albany was still retooling its system and less than 1% of the $2.4 billion in federal aid had been distributed.
Cuomo said in a news release Monday that the new process would take effect Tuesday. But late Tuesday, the state agency distributing the money — the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance — described the streamlining as a work in progress.
OTDA noted that tenants will be able to choose from an expanded list of options to prove their income, and less documentation will be required for that step. The agency did not detail other changes or explain when it will be done relaxing standards.
OTDA began accepting applications June 1 and has since distributed less than $1.32 million. The state gives aid directly to landlords on behalf of tenants.
To qualify, renters must earn no more than 80% of their area's median income — $94,900 for a family of four on Long Island — and must have suffered financially because of COVID-19. The program can cover up to one year of unpaid rent and utility bills, and three months of prospective rent.
Guidehouse, a contractor working on the rent relief effort, now has more than 1,000 staff focused on it, compared to about 400 in June, OTDA said. Cuomo said OTDA will also bring on at least 350 volunteers from other agencies, but the agency did not quantify how its staffing levels for the initiative had changed.
"The confluence of additional staffing and our ongoing streamlining efforts will help us process a far greater number of applications and get a much larger portion of this critical funding out as we advance into August," OTDA spokesman Justin Mason said in a statement.
The shifts come after U.S. Senate Majority Leader Schumer warned Sunday that the federal government could claw back pandemic relief funds that New York does not spend by the end of September.
Fifteen members of New York's congressional delegation sent a letter to OTDA on Tuesday urging the agency to take every step possible to accelerate a program plagued by "extreme delays."
"We remain very confident that all the federal funding allocated to New York will be used in its entirety," Mason said in his statement.
OTDA said it received more than 160,000 applications. Less than 630 came from Nassau County, and more than 230 were from Suffolk County as of June 29, according to an OTDA report. More than 84% of the applications were from New York City.
The state's eviction moratorium is slated to expire at the end of August. Under state law, the court system and sheriffs will pause housing cases and evictions for tenants until their applications are processed.
When tenants miss rent payments, they are entitled to protections in housing court and cannot be evicted for at least 66 days, according to a timeline from Nassau Suffolk Law Services, a nonprofit that represents those in need for free.
Warren M. Berger, a lawyer who represents landlords and tenants, said housing courts and sheriffs have a backlog to work through, so many cases will not be resolved for "months."
Vivian Storm, a spokeswoman for Nassau Suffolk Law Services, said the online rent relief application system should allow users to save applications while they are in progress, since it can take hours to gather and upload the appropriate material. Currently, users have to start over if they cannot finish the application in one sitting.
The state is working on restoring tools that enable an applicant to save an incomplete application and retrieve it later,, OTDA said.
The Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, a consortium of nonprofit groups, has published a list of organizations that can help with applications, available at https://bit.ly/3f0CiAX.
What to know:
- Less than $1.32 million of the $2.4 billion set aside has been distributed.
- The state has 160,000 applications; as of late June, about 860 were from Long Island.
- Aid covers up to one year of missed rent and utility bills, and three prospective rent payments.
- To qualify, tenants must have taken a financial hit because of COVID-19 and earn no more than 80% of the island's median income.