In May, the legislature passed the Emergency Rent Relief Act of 2020 to help low-income renters make their monthly rent payments for up to four months. The program was funded by $100 million of federal money.
Critics claim the legislation enabling the Act was written far too narrowly, and that the window to apply for relief was too short and ill-timed: It opened just as New Yorkers were receiving the $600-a-week unemployment checks from the federal government, which meant they were ineligible for rent relief.
The consequences of these limitations had a profound effect.
As of October 28, the New York State Office of Homes & Community Renewal which administers the relief program has only distributed $23,210,015 to 9,611 applicants. It was also estimated that another $16,767,006 would be distributed to 5,411 “pending” applicants. Presuming all the money has been distributed, the total disbursement would be just under $40 million ($39,977,021).
In other words, $60 million of federal rent relief has yet to be allocated, with a deadline of December 30 for its distribution.
According to Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid's Civil Law Reform Unit, either the legislature needed to return to Albany to change the eligibility requirements, or the governor needed to issue an executive order.
This afternoon, Governor Cuomo announced he would take action, saying:
“The legislature passed a rent assistance bill. The rent assistance bill appropriated $100 million, up to $100 million, but had eligibility requirements on what income levels could qualify. We ran the program. The number of eligible applicants, only brought us to $40 million in rental aid by the parameters of the law. By executive order I'm going to change the law. I’ve spoken to the legislative leaders about this – reopen the application window, extend the eligibility requirements to help more New Yorkers.”
The Legal Aid Society’s Goldiner released a statement in response to the governor’s announcement:
“We welcome the news from Governor Cuomo that he will amend New York’s rent relief program to benefit more families in desperate need of housing assistance. However, the devil is in the details, and Albany has just weeks to recalibrate this program to ensure that $60 million in resources reaches New Yorkers facing eviction and homelessness.”
Goldiner told Capital Tonight that she awaits the exact language of the executive order, and hopes that the Governor extends the benefits to renters from August to December.
A recent analysis by Legal Aid found that other states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, and Washington state, amended their respective rent relief programs earlier this year to maximize the number of needy families eligible for relief.
Earlier today prior to the governor’s announcement, Capital Tonight reached out to the state Senate regarding the slow pace of aid disbursements. Michael Murphy, communications director for the Senate Democrats, emailed the following:
“This money must be released and we keep all options on the table. In the meantime, we continue to push the Executive to extend the moratorium and distribute the remaining resources we allocated for housing assistance.”
In response, the HCR sent the following statement to Capital Tonight:
“We are continuing to evaluate the remaining applications to determine if there are any more that meet the Legislature’s specific requirements. The program was fully paid for as designed by the Legislature.”