NEW YORK — New York State lawmakers held a hearing Tuesday looking into delayed pandemic rental assistance payments for thousands of struggling tenants.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program was designed to prevent New Yorkers from being evicted from their homes due to financial hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the initiative has been fraught with problems from its inception.
In June, government officials warned it would be weeks before most applicants received payments, adding to delays in a program that has been beset by technical glitches with its online application portal.
Nearly $3 billion in federal funding was earmarked to provide relief for tenants and landlords, but as of July 27, only 55 households had received an average of $14,000, according to state lawmakers. It’s estimated New Yorkers owe nearly $4 billion in unpaid rent in the wake of the pandemic.
The delayed rental assistance payments are ratcheting up concern as the Aug. 31 eviction moratorium deadline looms.
Tenants, landlords and housing advocates also criticized the application process for being too complicated and confusing.
In response, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a more streamlined application process in late July. He also said the program would be fully up-to-date with payment disbursements for all pending, verified applications before the eviction moratorium expires.
The rent relief program was established to help tenants who earn at or below 80% of their area’s median income and have fallen behind on their rent because of financial hardship.
Eligible applicants could receive funds to cover up to 12 months of past-due rent and utility payments as well as three months of prospective rental assistance.
The program was expected to serve between 170,000 and 200,000 households.