BUFFALO, N.Y. — The application process for New York's Emergency Rental Assistance Program has been harrowing for many people struggling to make their payments.
State Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh said the online portal has had numerous issues including glitches, a complex application and inability to save and resume at a later time.
"Even though there is a big challenge here, in many, many thousands of renters and landlords that are supposed to benefit from this, but it's been really perplexing to a lot of us why we can't get at least some of this money out a lot sooner than today," Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, said.
He said New York continues to lag behind other states in disbursing funding with only a small fraction of the roughly $2.7 billion available going out so far. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, on Monday announced money for qualifying applications would be paid to landlords ahead of the August 31 eviction moratorium sunsetting.
"You want to get the money out the door right away," Cuomo said. "We went through this last year with unemployment benefits, but you want to make sure you give the money to the people who need it most and there's no fraud and there's no scam."
The state on Tuesday launched a revamped process relaxing documentation standards for both tenants and landlords, and announcing more than 1,000 dedicated staff and 350 volunteers will work to help clear the nearly 5,000 currently pending cases.
"We're going to start with funding the poorest tenants and then work our way up, which we think is fair and the funding will be out by August 31," Cuomo said.
Kavanagh said the announcement was welcome but long overdue. Housing Justice For All Campaign Coordinator CEA Weaver had a different reaction.
"I think my first reaction was I don't trust it and I'll believe it when I see it," she said.
Weaver said it will take at least a few days to see how well the state's efforts work, but in the meantime she hopes Cuomo's announcement will encourage more people to apply for the program. State law has provisions built in that prevent anybody with a pending application from being evicted.
"For people to have to start working their way through eviction courts, now would be devastating," she said. "The delta variant is coming for all of us. There is still a COVID-19 economic crisis."
The state Senate and Assembly both plan to have hearings about the program soon to make sure they're overseeing both the state and local governments that are disbursing the largely federal funds.