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New York, unlike some neighbors, yet to get rent relief money out

Protesters marched for rent relief in Manhattan in

Protesters marched for rent relief in Manhattan in August 2020.   Credit: STRF/STAR MAX/IPx

ALBANY — In Connecticut, officials began sending an RV and staff around the state in March to help residents sign up for rent relief checks to help tenants and landlords in arrears because of the pandemic.

Vermont is on its second round of sending rental assistance.

But in New York, none of the state’s $2.4 billion in rent relief has gone out the door and into anyone’s hands yet.

What to know

  • New York has yet to send out any of the $2.4 billion intended for rent relief; applications are expected to go out by the end of May.
  • Supporters say they are trying to avoid the online problems that plagued the unemployment program last year.
  • Other states, such as Vermont and Connecticut, already have programs up and running.

Applications aren’t even available. And they won’t be until the end of the month at best.

"There is $2 billion we’ve gotten from the federal government, and it’s as if it has gone into a black hole," said Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney with Legal Aid New York. "We’re very worried that the application isn’t open yet."

Advocates say they’ve been told the state is trying to make sure when the rental-assistance program goes online, it doesn’t suffer the same frequent crashes that hamstrung the unemployment program last year when the pandemic hit.

That’s certainly reasonable, but other states are ahead of New York, Davidson said, "and it’s getting to a point where we're wondering when the money will go out."

The issue was raised repeatedly by state legislators on Monday, when lawmakers voted to extend New York’s moratorium on evictions another four months, until Aug. 31.

Republicans and some Democrats opposed the extension in part because the assistance the state has hasn’t been deployed yet.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, defended the deliberate roll out.

"These are massive, complicated programs," Cuomo said the day the Legislature approved the extension. "Both the tenant relief and small business relief, you have to write regulations. You have to make sure there’s no fraud. You have to send out the application and you have to send it out."

He also said the state wanted to protect against fraud, saying: "You want to make sure that no harm is done."

Federal rental aid flowed to New York in December, but the governor and Legislature didn't approve legislation governing the program until April. The Cuomo administration said the applications should be available by the end of the month.

Tenants will be able to apply and landlords will be able to apply with their tenants’ consent. The state Office of Temporary Disability Assistance will handle the program.

"OTDA is at work readying the launch of the $2.4 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which was just approved by the legislature as part of the budget a few weeks ago, and we are moving expeditiously to get assistance to New Yorkers who need it most with the expectation that applications will open in May," agency spokesman Anthony Farmer said in an email.

Critics are saying New York should have started the process long ago.

"We have $2.4 billion sitting there and nothing’s been done," Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said. "Vermont has a huge number compared to us because we’ve got nothing going out."

Vermont last month began its second round of doling out aid to renters who are in arrears. Connecticut too has begun sending out money. A number of other states, including New Jersey, have at least outlined their procedures. Palumbo noted it is not just renters tied to the aid but a succession of people and entities, including landlords, local schools and local governments.

"We need our state lawmakers to act with the same lightning speed as they do with their political gamesmanship to get these federal rent relief funds into the hands of financially desperate renters and landlords to address rent arrears, as other states have been doing since early February," said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group. "If this money was already out the door, eviction moratorium extensions would be a moot point."

But some Democrats said the Cuomo administration needs time to get it right.

"Of course it’s frustrating, but they are kind of doing this from scratch and it’s a huge amount of money and we don’t want them to waste it," said Assemb. Jeff Dinowitz (D-Bronx), sponsor of the moratorium extension legislation. "But it will be disappointing if it doesn’t start going out soon."

State & Region