A rental property in Hempstead.

A rental property in Hempstead. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Long Islanders are still hurting. An economic pain ripples through the region more than a year after the start of the pandemic.

Too many can't pay their rent. That, in turn, means landlords across Long Island, large and small, aren't getting the income they need. For the region to make a full comeback, rent relief has to get into the hands of those who need it.

Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.

A recent Newsday analysis showed that only about 1% of Long Island's pot of nearly $90 million in federal rent relief actually has reached landlords and tenants. There are many reasons for that, from the bureaucracy of the programs and the lack of clear guidance and rules to the fact that too many tenants haven't bothered to apply, in part because they've been protected by a statewide eviction moratorium.

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo just this week announced plans for more rent relief — a total of $2.7 billion statewide, with applications for the new funds to be accepted beginning June 1.

That's good news — but only if tenants, landlords and the community organizations helping them can cut through the red tape. The state must make the process clear and simple, removing as many bureaucratic hurdles as possible, overcoming older programs' roadblocks and getting the money out the door. State officials say they're ready with the technology and support systems in place to handle the expected high volume, and that by placing the efforts under the auspices of the state's Office of Temporary and Disablity Assistance, the program will be well-managed.

But questions and complexities remain. The state still has to manage the old pots of money, some from the CARES Act and still more from the first round of the U.S. Treasury Department's Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Some towns are waiting for the state, while others are doing it themselves or relying on groups like the Long Island Housing Partnership to navigate the situation. This leaves a potentially confusing maze for tenants and landlords, who need clear direction on how to apply and where.

Even without the bureaucracy, tenants have been hesitant to apply and, according to the state, both tenant and landlord must sign off for rent relief to be issued. The existing eviction moratorium, due to expire Aug. 31, has had unintended consequences. It provides a safety net for tenants, who don't feel the need to seek rent help, and leaves landlords without the relief they need.

The state should make the August deadline widely known, a move that hopefully would coax tenants to sign off on seeking rent relief right away. It'll be up to elected officials, advocacy groups and others to encourage renters to apply. Such outreach will be key, so those who qualify know that help is available.

This is a rare moment when the money, and the people who need it, are there. We just need to bring them together.

— The editorial board