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More help needed for renters

Long Island renters have had trouble applying for

Long Island renters have had trouble applying for a state rent relief program, advocates say. Credit: Newsday File/Kevin Coughlin

New York State’s COVID Rent Relief Program was quickly set up earlier this year to provide households struggling through the pandemic with a one-time rental subsidy sent to the associated landlord.

It was a badly needed temporary shot in the arm for lower-income tenants. Sadly for many, the program fell short.

A new report from New York Homes and Community Renewal, the agency administering the program, shows that while the agency received some 94,000 applications, more than 57,000 applicants received denial notices given the tight eligibility requirements from the State Legislature. Housing activists on Long Island point to other problems: the program’s website was down in the beginning as people rushed to apply. Immigrants and those with language barriers or limited technology faced challenges, despite some efforts from HCR. Enhanced unemployment benefits could decrease awards. Tenants without formal leases — not uncommon on Long Island — could apply but sometimes hit roadblocks. As of Oct. 28, Long Island applicants received some $1.33 million in funds. The average award in Nassau was $3,147. In Suffolk it was $3,004, both a little higher than the $2,415 statewide average.

HCR says approximately $40 million has been distributed or is pending statewide as part of the relief effort, and the legislature earmarked up to $100 million not otherwise obligated from the federal money allocated to New York from the CARES Act.

A new round of payments would be a boon to Long Island renters, perhaps combined with less onerous eligibility requirements to make it easier for struggling tenants to get help. Many need it.

— The editorial board