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NYC faces pressure to get rent relief to tenants, landlords

There have been concerns that New York’s multibillion-dollar rent relief program aimed at restabilizing renters and landlords affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is not running efficiently enough, Bisnow reports. Between the fact that there have been more than 90,000 applicants for relief and a reportedly complicated application process, there are fears that the rent relief program isn’t equipped to handle the social and economic issues that could arise when the eviction moratorium expires at the end of July.

“We’re in a race against the eviction moratorium,” Jessica Katz, the executive director of the Citizens Housing Planning Council, told Bisnow. “The eviction moratorium is an incredibly important public health tool, but it’s not going to get us very far if, at the end of the eviction moratorium, everybody is still in arrears and everybody gets evicted.”

Katz also noted that eviction moratorium should give people time to actually access benefits such as New York’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which was launched at beginning of June. Katz is concerned the program isn’t set up to move quickly enough, however as New York City’s housing ecosystem relies on relief funds being distributed quickly.

“We’re trying to reset to a more typical housing market, but we can’t do that without a really robust rental subsidy program,” Katz told Bisnow.

The federal residential eviction ban was extended to July 31, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials said it would be the last extension. Meanwhile, New York’s statewide moratorium is scheduled to run through the end of August. State lawmakers believe that banning evictions will give the relief programs time to get to those who need them. Currently, the program has been criticized for being too difficult to access, however.

“Hopefully, within a certain period of time, they will approve those applications, and then the funds will start to flow, and as a result, we will get those monies and tenants’ rental arrears will be wiped off our ledger,” Nelson Management President Robert Nelson told Bisnow.

How New York’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program works

If applicants can access relief, the funding pays for as much as a year of unpaid rent and three months of future eligible tenants. Tenants and landlords can apply for benefits. Landlords don’t have to accept the money, but if they do they can’t evict a qualifying tenant for 12 months, except under certain circumstances. More than 100,000 applications have been submitted, Anthony Farmer, the director of public information at the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, told Bisnow.

The office anticipates that cases will be processed between four and seven weeks from the date the application was submitted. The time frame could vary, “based upon the completeness of the application, by both the tenant and landlord, and all the correct documentation being submitted,” however. It’s Katz’ hope that New York State would follow the federal government’s lead when it comes to getting funds into community members’ hands quickly. That has not been the case with this program so far.

“It’s going to screen out the most vulnerable people rather than supporting them to get the help that they need,” Katz said.

Tenant, landlord eviction debate continues

Kenneth Morrison, a Lemor Development Group Managing Member, said he’s heard it could take almost 90 days to access funds, Bisnow reports. Morrison noted he hasn’t heard that from the state, however. His company owns 1,000 market-rate and affordable units in Harlem and the Bronx. He said he started to contact tenants as soon as the program began, and many of them have said the state is requesting further documentation.

“Some of these renters, being three, four or five months behind — and some even further than that — there’s no way for them to pay if this program doesn’t pay for them,” Morrison said. “Judges and courts are just going to give folks time to pay it, so I think you’re just prolonging the problem.”

Meanwhile, the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, is still working to have the courts overturn eviction bans. The group argued before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals that the measures put in place during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic should not apply anymore. RSA Executive Vice President said that there are New York City tenants for whom an eviction suit is their main motivation to get their rent paid. Ricci believes ending the eviction ban prior to August would at least let landlords get their cases heard again.

“There are tenants there who are taking advantage of the system, they’re taking advantage of the moratorium, and they have the wherewithal and the means to pay the rent, yet they’re not paying the rent,” Ricci told Bisnow.

Ricci also noted that lifting the eviction ban early might help the rent relief program because tenants who can afford to pay their rent would pull their applications and unload some of the system’s current burdens. As it stands, landlords have no way to determine who is actually unable to pay their rent.

“A lot of our owners are small owners,” Ricci said “They know their tenants. They see them go out to work each day. There are tenants who are actually working out of their homes so that they didn’t lose their jobs. There are tenants getting plenty of relief, yet they choose not to pay their rent, because they don’t have to.”

Joe Dyton can be reached at joed@fifthgenmedia.com.

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