NEW YORK — Facing backlash over delayed pandemic rental assistance payments, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a more streamlined online application process for tenants and landlords on Monday.
The new online application, which will be implemented on Tuesday, loosens the standards for documentation, including for multi-tenant landlords who need to submit arrears documents.
“The COVID pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on New Yorkers all across the state, and they need rental assistance now,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement on Monday. “The $2.7 billion Rental Assistance Program is already providing funding to some of our most vulnerable residents who were prioritized during the first 30 days of the application process, and now we must focus on delivering funds to the remaining applicants. To streamline this process, I’ve directed the [Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance] to work with their vendor to disburse payments as quickly and efficiently as possible so we can deliver billions of dollars in rental assistance to New Yorkers who have been struggling to pay rent due to no fault of their own.”
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program has been fraught with issues from the start. Last month, state 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.
As of July 22, only $117,000 of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program’s $2.7 billion in federal funding had been sent out. According to U.S. Treasury data, New York until last week was the only state that hadn’t distributed any money from the federally funded rent relief program since January.
Sen. Chuck Schumer held a news conference on Sunday and demanded the Cuomo administration speed up the release of funds as the state’s Aug. 31 eviction moratorium deadline nears.
About 1.1 million New York rental households have at least one family member who was economically impacted by the pandemic. More than 90,000 New York City residents and about 1,000 Long Islanders desperately need the cash assistance, according to Schumer.
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, three months of prospective rental assistance and 12 months of past-due utility payments.
The program is expected to serve between 170,000 and 200,000 households.
Cuomo on Monday said the contracted vendor working with the OTDA has also now hired more than 1,000 staff members dedicated to speeding up the release of rental assistance payments. Additionally, the OTDA will bring in hundreds of volunteers from other state agencies to clear the backlog of more than 4,800 applications by Aug. 3, according to the governor.
The state expects to be fully up-to-date with payment disbursements for all pending, verified applications by Aug. 31 when the eviction moratorium will expire.