The window for applications to the state’s $100 million relief fund for renters affected by COVID-19 closed Thursday, but the Cuomo administration announced Friday that it would reopen for an additional week, through August 6.
Applications are available here. A call center is available Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., for applicants who need help. It can be reached at 1-833-499-0318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earlier this week a coalition of housing advocates and community organizations had called for that deadline to be extended, citing problems with the roll-out of the program.
The fund was established by the Emergency Rent Relief Act of 2020, which Gov. Cuomo signed in mid-June. It offers a one-time relief payment to tenants who made less than 80 percent of area median income (or $81,920 for a family of three) and paid more than 30 percent of their income toward rent prior to the pandemic, and lost income during the crisis.
The fund, which can tap into up to $100 million of federal stimulus funds, will cover up to four months of a tenant’s extra rent burden—so, if you were paying 35 percent toward rent in February, but lost your job and are now paying 50 percent, the grant would cover 15 percent of your rent.
So far the fund has attracted 57,000 applicants.
Applications for the fund opened on July 14, creating only a two-week window. That’s a big problem, the advocates say. “Without prior notice, two weeks are not enough time for families to prepare documents and submit an application,” their letter reads.
Spanish-language online applications weren’t initially available, although they are now, and while materials are available in Haitian Creole, Russian and three other languages, those applications must be printed out and completed in English before being mailed in—something that many households can’t do. The agency overseeing the program, the Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR), says households can appoint an English-speaking proxy if need be.
“The Rent Relief Program further fails tenants who are undocumented by flat out excluding them,” the advocates’ letter reads, “and also fails tenants receiving unemployment benefits at this time by not taking into account the artificially high incomes tenants will be reporting due to expanded Federal CARES Act that expire August 1.”
The coalition asked for a four-week extension.
DHCR says it invited community organizations—including some of the letters’ signatories—to a webinar shortly before the application window opened, in an effort to boost outreach.
One reason to close the window soon is that it’s not first-come, first served: Grants are awarded according to relative need, and that can’t be assessed until all applications are in. Delaying that assessment means a lag in the issuance of relief checks, which could leave needy tenants in the lurch.
“HCR is responsible for administering the COVID Rent Relief Program designed by the legislature, and we are committed to reaching low-income New Yorkers struggling with an increased rent burden because of the loss of income during the pandemic,” says a DHCR spokeswoman. “We are working to ensure the application process is inclusive and that all eligible New Yorkers are able to apply, regardless of their proficiency in English.”
The agency says the use of federal money to fund the program is why the undocumented are excluded—although any household with a single person, even a child, who has legal status is eligible. DHCR’s website offers a list of community-based organizations available to assist non-English-speaking residents with their applications.
What’s certain is that the program will fall short of need. The advocates estimate $2.3 billion in overdue rent. The Furman Center says 1.2 million renter households have experienced significant income loss. A $12 million relief fund for renters and homeowners announced on Wednesday by the City Council will be a drop in the bucket. All eyes are on Washington.