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New rent relief program will cover up to 15 months for eligible tenants

Tenants and housing activists rallied for rent relief

Tenants and housing activists rallied for rent relief in Brooklyn in July.  Credit: LightRocket via Getty Images/Erik McGregor

The state budget reserved $2.4 billion for a rent relief program that will cover up to 15 months of expenses for tenants who suffered a financial hardship due to COVID-19.

The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance will administer the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which was designed to aid a swath of New Yorkers, including immigrants living here illegally, who struggled to benefit from prior funding. A different state agency, Homes and Community Renewal, is wrapping up an earlier rent relief program that has used just over $40 million of the $100 million budgeted due to strict eligibility requirements, according to HCR.

The new assistance, funded mostly with federal money, will be provided directly to property owners and utility companies. For a year after receiving the money, landlords can't increase rent or, in most cases, evict the tenants due to an expired lease. If a renter applies, their landlord cannot file a new eviction case or move forward with a pending one unless their request is denied.

"There is very little incentive here not to accept this money," said State Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-Manhattan), chair of the chamber's housing committee, who noted tenants will receive a letter that protects them in court if their landlord tries to collect the rent, but declines the aid.

The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance did not directly respond when asked if ERAP will begin accepting applications before the state's eviction moratorium is slated to end on May 1.

During the first 30 days, the agency will aim to distribute at least 35% of the funding to households outside New York City. Priority will be given to people who have been unemployed for 90 days, are facing an eviction or live in an area hard hit by COVID.

The bulk of the aid is available to those earning no more than 80% of the median income in their area, but $100 million has been set aside for others who are struggling, Kavanagh said. ERAP will cover up to 12 months of rent and utility bills that have accrued since March 13, 2020. Applicants who spend at least 30% of their monthly income on rent may receive another three months of aid.

Most municipalities on Long Island plan to collaborate with the state so residents may apply on one portal and be considered for federal funding allocated to either government, according to Vivian Storm, spokeswoman for Nassau Suffolk Law Services, a nonprofit that provides free legal representation to those in need.

"That will make things much easier for everybody in need of assistance, and particularly our clients, who sometimes have additional challenges in navigating complicated application processes," Storm said.

The new program has more flexible documentation requirements, including allowing tenants to self-attest to their hardship, which is important for workers in the "informal economy and undocumented immigrants," said Pilar Moya-Mancera, executive director of Housing Help Inc., a nonprofit in Greenlawn.

"We believe these amendments to the rental program will allow for those in need to truly get the assistance they require," Moya-Mancera said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misspelled State Sen. Brian Kavanagh's name. It has also been updated to include the newest eligibility criteria included in the budget.

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