Half of NY’s $ 2.4 billion in rent assistance is stranded 6 months after launch

Nearly $ 1 billion to cover rent for New Yorkers who have suffered economic hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic has still not been returned to tenants six months after the program launched.

This led to the exasperation, especially as the state warned that the $ 2.4 billion earmarked for rent relief would likely not cover new applicants and most applications closed.

The delay, according to state officials, is in part linked to missing documents. Around 82,000 housing assistance applications lodged up to September are still incomplete. About a third of those unfinished claims date back to June, according to the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

One of the problems is that the state is struggling to match claims submitted by tenants with owner owners of the property. Some tenants did not provide owner contact information or mistakenly provided phone numbers for property management companies rather than owners, which is a problem because the program is designed to send funds directly to owners.

But some landlords say they have struggled to get the necessary information from tenants or the state.

Brooklyn landlord Sharon Redhead said six tenants owed her about $ 50,000 in past rents and one failed to provide her with an application number needed for state documents. She received a computer-generated message from the state aid agency that included the number, but Redhead said part of that message was “gibberish” and it was not in. able to decipher it.

“I cannot link this tenant’s claim because I don’t have the claim number, and OTDA is unable to help,” Redhead said, referring to the Temporary Help Office and to disabled people of the state.

Because of the delays, said Redhead, “both landlords and tenants are in this situation and tenants will be in even more debt because the program has taken so long.”

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Office of Temporary Help and Disability spokesperson Anthony Farmer said the state has expanded its reach to homeowners and has enough workers to handle claims: 1,750 employees, including 1,400 contractors and 100 government employees reassigned from other agencies.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, said the administration has also asked his group for help in locating owners, including in cases where opaque limited liability companies own buildings.

“We don’t know why they aren’t getting the money out as quickly as they should be,” he said.

Not all delays are due to bureaucratic obstacles. Some landlords do not want to participate in the program because if they do, they are prohibited from evicting the covered tenant for a year.

Brooklyn owner Cynthia Brooks said she didn’t want to keep a “squatter” who she said damaged her property, failed to pay rent, caused a cockroach infestation and knocked down door of his other tenant.

Still, Strasbourg said he thought it was “rare” for an owner to categorically refuse to accept checks: “They want the money,” he said. “They haven’t seen any payments for almost two years.”

New York does not release payments until an owner cooperates and provides contact information. Under the program’s rules, the state must try to collect the required documents for 180 days before giving up and reallocating the funds. Other states send money directly to the tenant or reject requests faster when landlords cannot be reached.

New York’s online-only app portal – overseen by provider Guidehouse – also faced a series of issues this summer. At times, the portal erased applications and made it impossible to upload documents, according to The Associated Press interviews with dozens of tenants and community groups helping with applications.

“There seems to be a technical issue with the application process which has caused a lot of trouble and is slowing everything down,” said Ellen Davidson, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society.

Farmer, of the state aid agency, said the state fixes technical problems “quickly and as they arise.”

“These problems have not resulted in widespread delays in granting aid to tenants, and the agency has never indicated it as such,” he said.

Farmer said the state is working with community groups to contact homeowners with incomplete applications, including homeowners who initially refused to participate.

He said it was difficult to say whether a particular issue – owner refusal or lack of contact information for owners – was causing the biggest delays.

“Each request is processed uniquely and within a time frame specific to that request,” Farmer said.

Hochul, who took office in August, is now seeking an additional $ 1 billion in federal rent assistance to supplement what the state has already allocated.

Some advocacy groups representing landlords and tenants have also urged her to reopen the process for applying for rent relief, saying the need for help has exceeded what the state has granted so far.

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