The state has reopened applications for the COVID Rent Relief Program and will accept submissions under broader eligibility criteria through Feb. 1.
New York started taking submissions Friday morning and will use new qualifications to review forms received during a prior application period, according to Homes and Community Renewal, the state agency administering the program. Recipients will benefit from subsidies issued to their landlord, which cover a portion of their rent for up to four months.
Aid is no longer restricted to low-income tenants who were rent burdened before the pandemic, and may be granted to those who hit that threshold early in the emergency. The state considers households rent burdened if they pay more than 30% of their monthly income in rent.
HCR reviewed more than 90,000 applications received this summer. When nearly done processing the paperwork in October, HCR said it had rejected a majority of applications and authorized about $40 million of the $100 million earmarked for the program.
"We worked around the clock for months to ensure rent-burdened households received the assistance for which they qualified. But more can be done," HCR Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said in a statement. "Tenants need our support."
The new criteria continues to leave out many lower income Long Islanders, according to Vivian Storm, spokeswoman for the nonprofit legal group Nassau Suffolk Law Services. The program is now open to those who lost income and were rent burdened from April 1 to July 31. But at that point, the federal government was providing an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits, which briefly raised some Long Islanders' incomes.
"I don't see anything in here that really addresses the problems that our clients experience year-in and year-out or during the pandemic," Storm said.
Priority for the rent relief will be based on need and restricted to those who earned no more than 80% of their area's median income before March 7. The state published a chart with income eligibility limits, which is available online at on.ny.gov/32mz9pO.
The state extended the summer application period from two to three weeks when social service providers said many New Yorkers, particularly immigrants, needed more time to fill out a 14-page form and gather supporting documents. HCR is now using a call center to answer questions, help tenants apply over the phone and connect New Yorkers with translation services.
The setup has already assisted two Spanish-speaking Long Islanders, said Pilar Moya-Mancera, executive director of the Greenlawn-based social service group Housing Help Inc.
"Having access to live people to walk them through the application process could be vital to ensure people can stay in their homes this upcoming year," Moya-Mancera wrote in an email noting that many senior citizens and other applicants may have limited access to the internet.
The program's expansion was applauded by the Association for a Better Long Island, a trade group that represents residential landlords and other business leaders. The organization has highlighted how landlords struggling to collect rent are not assisted by the state's eviction moratorium, which currently protects tenants until 2021.
"A direct rent assistance program for tenants financially impacted by COVID-19 is not only a compassionate policy that mitigates a genuine crisis, but it is the only sound economic decision," ABLI Director Kyle Strober said in a statement.
Applications are available online, at hcr.ny.gov/rrp. HCR's call center may be reached Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 833-499-0318 or email@example.com.