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Why Many Tenants Got Shut Out of State Rent Relief Program

THE CITY’s Open Newsroom team breaks down some of the latest info about renting in NYC. Sign up for our tenants’ newsletter for the latest updates.

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Crown Heights residents called for a moratorium on rent during the coronavirus outbreak, June 24, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Here’s the latest edition of NYC Rent Update, a new newsletter from THE CITY’s Open Newsroom. Sign up here to get updates sent via email or text.


With so much news happening, it’s easy to forget about promises our leaders made months ago — like their pledge to provide rent relief to struggling tenants. That’s part of the reason THE CITY started these updates, to help keep track of resources intended to help renters.

Here’s some of the latest of what we’ve learned: 

Remember that rent relief program our state legislators created in May to help tenants? Well...

Some background: The program designated $100 million of the state’s CARES Act money for emergency aid to certain tenants in need. 

When the effort was announced, housing advocates, tenant organizers and legal service providers knocked the program, saying that its eligibility rules were too restrictive and it didn’t go far enough to help tenants stave off eviction. 

Now: Turns out the program has provided far less aid to far fewer tenants than elected officials suggested it would.

Last week, the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) announced in a report that it can only give out less than $40 million of that $100 million slated for statewide emergency rent relief — because too few people met the program’s strict eligibility requirements by the August application deadline.

What happened: The program wasn’t designed to pay back full arrears, but just to help pay a percentage of rent. In order to qualify, tenants had to provide a lot of documentation showing their income sources, which was hard for people without formal jobs. And tenants had to meet certain income requirements from before the pandemic, which excluded a lot of workers who lost all their income because of COVID-19. 

Translation: As of Oct. 28, only 15,022 out of about 94,000 people who applied were approved statewide. 

Here’s what Brian Butry, a spokesperson for DHCR, said: “We are continuing to evaluate the remaining applications to determine if there are any more that meet the Legislature’s narrow requirements.”

Here’s what Ellen Davidson, tenant attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said: “The program was set up in a terrible way. If you want to ensure that people don’t get help, you set up a program the way it was set up.”

Here’s what Esteban Girón, an organizer with the Crown Heights Tenant Union, said: “I can’t think of a single person I know who qualified. It’s like dangling a carrot in front of our face that we can’t have. The program was a total failure.”

What about you? Did you apply and get denied? Did you apply and receive help? Let us know by sending an email to opennewsroom@thecity.nyc.

So what do tenants need to know about rent relief now?

If you were denied rent relief but believe you should have qualified, you can file an appeal here. If you have questions about how, you can call 311 and ask for the tenant hotline, which is staffed by housing attorneys and advocates.

If you were deemed eligible but your application hasn’t been finalized yet, DHCR will call you or email you about providing more information.

...and what’s going on with evictions?

Once again, the rules around evictions changed last week, as an executive order expired and a new one was issued. We broke down exactly what that means for tenants in an update last week. The two things you need to know are:

  • If your landlord filed a petition to evict you for not paying rent, you do have to answer that petition. You can do so in person at Housing Court or over the phone.
  • Just because your landlord tells you to move out doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being evicted. Eviction is a legal process that happens in court, and until that happens, you have the right to be in your home.

If you want to read the whole update, go here.

Bangladeshi tenants at 88-15 168 St. in Queens have formed a union to fight high rents, Oct. 4, 2019.

Christine Chung/THE CITY

What else we’re reading…

The Daily News reported on a new state bill proposing rent relief for NYCHA residents.

Spectrum showed tenants in Albany protesting for increased protections.

The Times Union published an opinion piece from a small landlord about cancelling rent.

THE CITY and Retro Report combined on then-and-now looks at New Yorkers fighting eviction during times of crisis.

Any questions?

Have more questions about rent relief, evictions or something else related to rent? Send a note to opennewsroom@thecity.nyc.

If you’re facing eviction now or are worried about losing your housing and want to tell us about it, fill out this questionnaire.

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