This article is adapted from our Rent Update newsletter. You can sign up here to get it or fill out the form at the bottom of this post.
New York was one of the last states in the country to launch a COVID rent relief program with money from the federal government this spring. And the funds have yet to start flowing.
Just to recap: In April, the state Legislature created a $2.7 billion program that can pay back up to 15 months of rent debt in full as part of the state budget. The application portal finally opened on June 1.
In the first month, nearly 120,000 tenants applied for aid, including more than 91,000 households in New York City. But the state hasn’t distributed any money yet to applicants in need.
While the rollout has been slow, the funds will start going out “in the coming weeks,” said a spokesperson from the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which is administering the program.
Here’s what you need to know about the state of rent relief, the risk of eviction and how you or someone you know can get help applying:
Is it too late to apply for rent relief?
No! If you or people you know haven’t applied for New York’s emergency assistance program, there’s still time. The first-come, first-served program doesn’t have an application deadline.
You can qualify if your household income is less than 80% of the Area Median Income (which is $95,450 for a family of four), if you’ve experienced some kind of financial hardship because of the pandemic or if you’re behind on your rent for some time after March 2020.
But there is a key date to keep in mind: Aug. 31
That’s when New York’s eviction moratorium expires — and everyone is still on the hook for their rent. Remember, the moratorium didn’t cancel rent: It just pushed back when Housing Court could start moving eviction cases through.
Can you be evicted if you’re waiting to hear back about your application?
No. If you’ve applied for the state rent assistance program to pay back what you owe, you have a bit of a buffer. Your case can’t move forward in court and a new one can’t be started until you’ve heard back about qualifying.
But, if tenants have not applied for rent relief by the time the moratorium expires on Aug. 31 and still owe rent debt, landlords could legally sue for eviction, and existing cases can start back up.
Is there still money left for tenants who haven’t applied yet?
Yes. We don’t know how many people will be able to get assistance from the fund because the size of the awards will vary depending on how much people owe. But the state anticipates the program will serve between 170,000 and 200,000 households. About 120,000 households have applied so far.
Will this be like the last rent relief program where the state failed to give out more than half of the funds?
Presumably not. Tenant and landlord advocates and lawmakers worked hard to design a program that, in theory, more people will qualify for. For example, if you are undocumented, have an informal source of income or an informal renting situation, you can still get rent relief.
To make sure people can complete the online application and upload all the necessary documents — even if they don’t have internet or computer access and regardless of what language they speak — the state has set aside money to give to community-based nonprofit organizations to help people with the application process.
What does that look like?
In New York City, 12 organizations were tapped by the city to get a cut of $64 million to do community outreach and provide application assistance. But most of those contracts were just confirmed last week or are still in the process of being finalized. That means these organizations will just now start adding more staff members to help with applications and reaching out to tenants who may be eligible.
Even without the government money, organizations that work with tenants throughout the city — including those slated to get the city contracts and a bunch of others not getting contracts — have been helping people apply.
Staff from these organizations — including BronxWorks, Good Shepherd Services, University Settlement, Project Hospitality and RiseBoro — said they’re getting anywhere from 30 to several hundred calls from tenants every day.
I’ve heard the online application has been glitching and that it’s a little complicated. Are there any tricks to know?
We’ve heard that, too. We reached out to all 12 of the organizations the city is paying to help tenants, as well as some other groups, to see what’s been challenging and gather tips to make the process easier.
The general consensus is that it takes about one and a half to two hours to complete the online rent assistance application after you’ve already assembled all of your documents. You have to complete the entire application in one session.
Some advocates have reported that the website sometimes crashes mid-application, which means a tenant or landlord would have to start the process over. The state said it’s working to resolve site glitches.
Some of the other biggest concerns center around access. There’s no paper application option. So tenants without computer access need to either complete the online application — including all the document uploading — on their phones, or get help from a nonprofit organization that can provide computer access. Some organizations are helping people over the phone, while others are scheduling in-person appointments.
It’s also important to note that while undocumented tenants can qualify, there is no specific form to fill out if you don’t have formal documents to show your loss of income or rent debt amount. You have to write those letters yourself. If you have questions about this, there are organizations that can help you prepare those notes.
“Even if people don’t have all the official paperwork, we can help them figure it out,” said Xing Hui Zheng, assistant director at University Settlement. “Do not be afraid to reach out and seek help.”
Keep these tips in mind when applying
- Gather your documents beforehand. You can find the checklist in multiple languages here.
- If you got kicked out of a session halfway through before you could finish because of a technical glitch on the site, try again, even if it’s on a different day, to make sure that your application goes through.
- If you don’t have traditional documentation, talk with an advocate who can help make sure you can still qualify.
- If you need help, ask for it. Remember: There are people who can help, and there’s still time to apply.
Where can tenants or landlords turn to get help with the application?
In the next few weeks, even more people will be able to help tenants and landlords apply as the organizations contracted by the city buff up their capacity.
Here’s who to call or email for help.
Pro tip: A lot of organizations have been flooded with calls, so if you have access to email, that may be a better option to get the help you need.
- Languages: English, Spanish, French
- Languages: Creole, Spanish, English, Bengali and Russian
- Languages: English, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindu and Creole
- Languages: English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese and multiple other Chinese dialects
- Languages: English, Korean, Spanish
- Languages: Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, Arabic, Hindu, and Creole
- Languages: Spanish, English
- Languages: English, Spanish, French, Russian and more to come
Also, the Legal Aid Society has a special hotline for undocumented and mixed status families to get assistance applying. You can call 212-298-3490.
What else we’re reading
- Gothamist reported that some of the tenants who need rent assistance most aren’t able to access the application.
- THE CITY revealed that NYCHA ignored warnings about ventilation problems during the peak of the pandemic.
- City Limits reported on the strange and often illegal requests landlords make of tenants who apply for apartments, and about how the city’s budget boosted the voucher value for families seeking to move from shelters to stable housing.