Hochul authorizes $1 million campaign to boost New York’s rent relief efforts

Hours after she said more needed to be done, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the release of $1 million to help spread the word about the billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief that’s available to protect renters from eviction proceedings.

The extra funding is just one step that seeks to improve the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) Hochul revealed in a statement late Tuesday afternoon. On her first day in office, she ordered a “rapid review” of ERAP. She also directed that 100 contract workers be reassigned to work exclusively with landlords to complete their portions of applications.

Through ERAP, the state has $2.7 billion available to help New Yorkers who have been impacted by the pandemic. The funding can be used to cover up to months of back rent, 12 months of past-due utility payments and three months of prospective rental assistance.

However, since the application process opened on June 1, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) has only released or allocated about $680 million in funds, with about $200 million of that going directly to landlords.

The application process requires information from both the tenant and the landlord. Landlords must agree to waive late fees on past-due rent, and they must also agree to not increase rent or evict them for a year, with limited exceptions.

More than 46,000 applications have been approved preliminarily, with money set aside. However, the state needs to work with landlords to clarify or add information to the application to get funding released.

Simultaneously, the OTDA will review application data and determine areas where the need for relief is high, but renter requests remain low. The agency will also begin publishing relief payments by county on its website later this week in a nod to Hochul’s call for greater transparency in the public sector.

“By expanding and better targeting our marketing and outreach efforts, we can raise awareness in the communities that need our help the most, encourage more people to apply, and protect them from being evicted,” the governor said. “We are also reviewing and recalibrating the workflow and will dedicate more staff specifically to helping landlords through their application, so we can get outstanding applications fully approved and money out the door much more efficiently.”

State officials and New York’s congressional delegation have been critical of ERAP’s rollout. Some fear the state may lose some funding if awards do not pick up by the end of September.

An audit of the program by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office last week noted the application process was difficult for many potential applicants.

OTDA has included a “save and resume” option for applicants completing forms online. This feature will allow individuals to stop at a certain point and not need to start over again the next time they go to the application website.

Mike Hein, the OTDA commissioner, said in a statement he was thankful for the support from the new governor.

“While we continue to take steps to ease and expedite the application process, we are also encouraging all eligible New Yorkers to apply for this critical assistance so that they are shielded by the strong eviction protections afforded to all applicants,” he said.

This article was originally posted on Hochul authorizes $1 million campaign to boost New York’s rent relief efforts

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