Harlem street (306982)
Harlem street Credit: Bill Moore photo

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is calling on the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (ODTA) to get much-delayed federal rent relief to people who need it most. ODTA says they have already distributed funds and that all federal dollars will be provided.

Schumer made public a formal letter to ODTA and said the more than $2 billion he secured for the state and tenants can’t be delayed any further. He adds that the program being utilized by the State of New York to get the money out needs to be improved immediately as the state’s Aug. 31 eviction moratorium deadline comes near and the U.S. Treasury’s mandated date for beginning to reallocate funds is at the end of September.

“Thousands and thousands of New York tenants could be deprived of critical rent relief checks if the state doesn’t move more quickly on getting this money out,” said Schumer. “Today, I am formally asking ODTA to move heaven and earth to fix the mess, pick up the pace and get this federal money out the door before it’s too late for tenants and landlords. The message today is: tenant relief now. No more delay.”

As reflected in the data released by the Department of Treasury for the month of June, New York State was one of only two states that had given out $0 in federal rent relief. Schumer is demanding swift action to reverse this deeply concerning status report.

Nearly half of Americans either missed at least one rent or mortgage payment in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. That amounts to nearly $6,000 in back rent for the average household, according to the Urban Institute. Advocates say the federal funding will help people with rent and utility bills that piled up so they can make back payments.

“New York State tenants have been suffering since the beginning of this unprecedented pandemic with both an economic and health crisis,” said Judith Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society. “Since the program opened, our clients are experiencing a challenging application process, glitchy website and opaque rules and procedures and almost no money has been paid out.”

In a statement to the AmNews, ODTA said nearly $700,000 in rent relief payments were made this week to New Yorkers after opening the program to applications within weeks of enactment in April.

“The program agreed to with the Legislature set a 30-day period requiring the prioritization of more than 100,000 applications in order to target initial payments to those who need it most,” an OTDA spokesperson said. “That prioritization and review effort continues as new application and eligibility systems make it possible to provide payments only weeks after launch and, in the meantime, tenants who have submitted a completed application remain protected from eviction.”

Roughly 160,000 applications have been submitted as of July 16. There were more than 100,000 applications submitted during the first 30 days of the program. Updates on the program will continue to be posted on a monthly basis.

Under federal law, participating landlords must agree that payments fully satisfy all outstanding rent within the covered period, and that all late fees will be waived. Landlords must also agree not to increase the tenant’s monthly rent or evict for reason of expired lease or holdover tenancy for one year, except in very limited circumstances.

Once a tenant has applied to the program, their landlord cannot evict for nonpayment of rent during the covered period unless the household is deemed ineligible for assistance.

If a landlord refuses to provide information to complete a tenant’s application, or refuses to accept funds, the tenant will be provided with an eligibility letter that they can provide to the court if their landlord does attempt to evict them.