Adi Talwar

Buildings in the East Village.

New York’s stalled rent relief program has started sending checks to a handful of landlords whose tenants have missed rent payments as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledging to pay every approved applicant by the end of August.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) has issued just $1.2 million to landlords on behalf of low-income tenants who owe back rent, nearly four months after New York lawmakers allocated $2.7 billion in state and federal funding to the initiative. The looming end of state eviction protections on Aug. 31 has frustrated landlords and tenants alike, and fueled intense scrutiny of the program, which has accepted more than 160,000 applications since opening June 1.

Cuomo said Monday that the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) would “streamline” the application process to ensure every approved applicant receives payment by the end of August. In a statement, Cuomo’s office said OTDA would assign hundreds of state employees to handle the rental assistance applications and loosen submission rules—tenants will be able to prove their income eligibility using additional types of documents, for example.

OTDA will train at least 350 employees from other state agencies to assist with the applications in order to cut checks for 4,828 approved applicants by Aug. 3, he added.

Cuomo also said Guidehouse Inc., an Illinois-based firm that won a state contract to create a web portal and work with OTDA on administering the program, has assigned 1,000 employees to process applications.

“I’ve directed OTDA to work with their vendor [Guidehouse] to disburse payments as quickly and efficiently as possible [so] we can deliver billions of dollars in rental assistance to New Yorkers who have been struggling to pay rent due to no fault of their own,” Cuomo said in a statement.

An OTDA spokesperson said Guidehouse had about 400 employees working on the applications in June. Guidehouse did not respond to a list of emailed questions about its role and staffing numbers.

The $115 million Guidehouse agreement faced criticism after the Associated Press reported that the company employs a former Cuomo advisor. The contract with Guidehouse was not subject to oversight by the state comptroller’s office, thanks to a since-expired executive order enabling the Cuomo Administration to bypass comptroller audits during the pandemic.

More than 40 lawmakers sent a letter to Cuomo on Wednesday citing various “barriers to accessing the much needed money” for tens of thousands of eligible households waiting on rent relief, and seeking more information about the contract with Guidehouse.

OTDA told City Limits it would only provide a copy of the contract in response to a Freedom of Information Law request. City Limits submitted the records request, but such inquiries can take months to fulfill.

OTDA spokesperson Justin Mason said the agency and Guidehouse are working to expedite payments and correct problems that have plagued the application process, including a web portal feature that forces applicants to complete their submission in one sitting.

“As we get further into the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, our staff and the contractor are continually identifying efficiencies that will allow us to distribute this funding quicker and in a secure manner that does not compromise its integrity,” Mason said. “The confluence of additional staffing and our ongoing streamlining efforts will help us process a far greater number of applications and get a much larger portion of this critical funding out as we advance into August.”

Mason also told City Limits that OTDA is “very confident” the state will allocate all of the ERAP money. In recent days, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has publicly urged his home state to cut the checks before an October deadline forces New York to return the unused federal funding.

Landlords who qualify for reimbursement through ERAP must rent units to tenants who earn no more than 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) and who demonstrate that they could not make payments as a result of the pandemic. Lower income New Yorkers—people earning less than 50 percent of AMI—and renters already facing eviction had priority during the first month of the program. Landlords who receive ERAP money agree to rent their units to the same households for at least another year.

Some New York City landlords say they have begun to receive relief money since Cuomo’s Monday announcement, but problems persist.

“In the last 48 hours, we are getting emails into the office that owners are seeing checks being sent out,” said Community Housing Improvement Program Executive Director Jay Martin, whose organization represents thousands of rent-stabilized property owners.

In at least two instances, however, landlords received less than the arrears amount they had indicated on their ERAP applications, he said. One person was owed $28,000 and received $24,000, he said.

“There was no explanation, so we’re doing the work on the back end to find out what’s going on,” he added.

Martin also said his members have not seen any improvements when it comes to the actual web portal, which features the same cumbersome requirements and an inability to save an application and return to it later.

Ann Korchak, a representative for the group Small Property Owners of New York (SPONY), said her organization isn’t sure what Cuomo means when he says the application process has been “streamlined.” No SPONY members have received ERAP payments, she said.

She said the problems stem from an initial lack of engagement with small landlords. The delays have only further alienated property owners while saddling them with deeper mortgage and property tax debts, she said.

She also cited the experience of landlords whose tenants have left their apartments after missing months of rent payments. They are left holding the bag, unable to qualify for ERAP because the application process demands submissions from both the owner and the tenant, she said. OTDA said the dual submission requirement is a federal mandate.

Korchak said she fears many property owners will be forced to sell, “likely to a deep-pocketed corporation of institutional buyer, putting housing into fewer and fewer hands and robbing future generations of New York immigrants the ability to own and operate housing as a livelihood.”

42 thoughts on “New York’s $2.7 Billion Rent Relief Program Cuts First Checks, Amid Scrutiny

  1. I have been waiting for ERAP to pay the arears to my landlord as of June 18 2021 trying to find out what is going on

    • I was “ provisionally accepted “ thru were waiting on the landlord – so I emailed him and they sent over my applicant # and info
      …the letter I got fro
      ERAP assured me I could not get thrown out of my apartment .;(

  2. I applied 9 am on June 1. I have jumped through hoops to get my landlord to complete their end . Now that it’s been completely I’ve seen no progress. My account still reads pending. And those at the CS number can do nothing but tell me what I already know…….

  3. The majority of the payments seem to be sent to landlords with predominately overseas addresses in ukraine and china . This program should prioritize owners , renters snd landlords that are american citizens and taxpayers.

    • Not true! I work distributing payments. Rest assured your payment is delayed because of incompetence. The people contacted have no idea what they are doing. You have CNAs and leasing agents working remotely as managers with no prior management experience. Nanmccay has a bunch of mangers who flip out and verbally abuse people every time OTDA calls. It doesn’t help that they are firing knowledgeable people. These applications are complex, they require an understanding of documents and people. You have management that has never worked with people receiving subsidies, passing blind judgments on applications. If you call say Shervin, Jason and Julie are holding up your application. They should be fired.

      • I put my application in on June 8th and it says owner cleared income cleared and lease cleared. It says pending for quality control and under review. Why is it taking so long? Can you please let me know who I should contact or what I can do?

  4. Applied at the start of June, called CS and they said all documents had been received. Called two weeks later was told three documents were missing, I submitted them like three more times since. Then was told they had on file all but one of the documents? And because of that the application is pending, weird they could see all the others. Called again CS said now the problem is they have not contacted the landlord, as of today everything is pending, but a month ago the landlord status had been cleared!

  5. Similar things have happened to me. Applied June 2nd. I match ALL of the criteria for the priority first 30 days. Initially was told everything was submitted properly and was in review. Weeks went by. Then I got a notice that there were missing documents. Called CS, they stated my landlord hadn’t uploaded anything. I gave them the landlord account number, and they said the accounts were not linked. (Different from what I’d been told weeks earlier).
    In addition, I tried to have them ADD the months of July and August, since – due to their glacial pace – those are in arrears now too. They “opened a service request” which yesterday sent an email stating they cannot add or change the arrears amounts, and if I wanted to I needed to START A NEW APPLICATION?!?!? I have just about lost my mind with this. At some point we must have rights here – this is a law enacted to help people. What is the problem? I truly don’t understand why it’s so difficult. It is CRUEL at this point. To the landlords AND the tenants. There is only that one customer service phone number. I cannot find an email to anyone of any sort of supervisory position at the OTDA. I tried writing to the governor and my state senator, but they re-routed me BACK to the OTDA. Where is our recourse as citizens? It seems there must be a next step here, because it has become unlawful. The first “relief” last year, for which I qualified in every way but mysteriously was denied, they just one day closed the agency and all of the email and phone numbers. How was that ok? This time, they are just blatantly refusing to approve anything. There is no way to check for updates, and even if you do, it could go backwards the next day depending upon who you speak to. It is like they are purposefully making it impossible. Congress enacted this law – should we be writing to them? We also lose unemployment AND the COBRA subsidy next month. What happens then? It is quite literally CRUEL.

    • You are right it is kind of cruel to do this to the people who need the help, it seems other states are not having this issues and they have been distributing the money already. NYC is so far behind! There’s is an option on the application to “update” but I tried and users cannot save the changes, so I cannot add the July and August months, CS cannot add the months either. Landlord has not been contacted but they have the contact information. This process is very frustrating, because it appears the reviewers do not see the applicants’ urgency to receive the help.

    • in 2020 NYS denied 85% of applicant and kept the money. So if they determined that the majority 85% are not eligible, why did they continue the EM. IMHO the intention is to screw LL out of the money. I think they are trying to do the same with this ERAP. They initially received the Feds money in January and sat on it for six month. After some media negative attention they opened the program. However, NO money is going out to LL.

  6. Applied June 1st. Application in “Documents Review Com” status . Called and none of the representatives know what that means. My owner status continue to update hold to declined . Called again and no one knows what that means either.

  7. This program should be renamed. Clearly the Emergency part of the title is false. I applied on June 1st and my application has been pending ever since. All of required documents were submitted. The call center tries to be helpful but each and every day I call the response is the same….”Its Pending”. My application was even flagged and I still have not heard from a rep. The government lauded…help is on the way….where I ask is it?

  8. I received a call stating everything is fine they just need to review it AGAIN, it was already reviewed and you said everything was good. I know one person who’s rent was paid and she said the will give you July, August, September. It’s frustrating been waiting 10 weeks now from 4-6 weeks. They want us to go homeless and go to court.

    • I totally understand how you feel. I applied on 6/1/21. It took me almost two weeks to resubmit uploaded documents and as of today 8/18/21 my application is pending even though it’s at the last phase of review. It’s nerve wracking. I’m frightened!

  9. Reading these comments has depressed me even more than I am already, my application has been pending 8 weeks now and CS just no help at all, give you info that you yourself see every time you log into your account.

  10. I was told there was a problem with my application, in that my income didn’t match my 1040. When speaking with a representative, it became clear that they were estimating my 2021 income as being far higher than my 2020 income, which is (1) absolutely false and (2) irrelevant to the circumstances that resulted in arrears. The application states that a tenant certify income by submitting pay stubs OR by submitting their 2020 tax returns.
    I’ve submitted two requests to speak to someone who can address this issue and have heard nothing, other than a notice that a request was filed.
    I was also told that I may have to reapply to the program.
    What the hell is going on?

  11. I checked my case yesterday and owner status was “accept with risk” now it states “hold” I have no idea what means neither does CS… they need a glossary and more clarity because I’m stuck in the dark.

    • I got the same message, but nobody can explain to me what it means. Accepted at risk? This has got to be the most horrible roll out of any sort of program I’ve ever seen in my life. I really don’t even have words. I just can’t fathom what has gone on here or actually what is going on. We are one of the most populated States in the country and youd think they’d have it a little more together? Unreal.

  12. in 2020 NYS denied 85% of applicant and kept the money. So if they determined that the majority (85%) are not eligible, why did they continue the EVICTION MORATORIUM? It is because the shifted the burden to their victim, The LL. Which is forced to lose income and support strangers by having to pay expenses. IMHO the intention is to screw LL out of the money. I think they are trying to do the same with this ERAP. They initially received the Feds money in January and sat on it for six month. After some media negative attention they opened the program. However, NO money is going out to LL.
    IMHO the do not want to pay. NYS politicians intend to keep the money. They call it EMERGENCY Renters have free housing and LL are paying the bills and no one cares.

  13. This is every clear the first steps to COMMUNISM and to have government to be totally in control of everyone freedom tenants are happy or so they think in the end No one will be able to rent in the future as no one who did rent will ever trust the state to protect the rights to own property . in the end it is your standard of living [the tenant } who will lose . You will never be able to own a home or worst . The checks run out for cares sept 6 and congress can not extent. based on the DEBT Ceiling . a lot if not most could have paid something but did not they think they can play games and keep that free money and screw the small landlord Well folks the investment world has been buying up everything for future and the politics will change and then so many that thought they got away with it will find that their standard of living will drop and the cost of everything will rise far faster that the gov can increase aid . this is no accident . if it wasnt then the gov would have ordered all to get covid shots to recover faster . and paid any landlord monies due direct to landlords . is was to sucker them to vote the wrong way in the long run .

  14. I am experiencing the same thing, I’ve been told that my application was just submitted July 09 with all the correct documents they asked me to upload to them, they have over 25 pieces of information I gave them, my landlord submitted information as well and they stated that my application as well as my landlords is still being reviewed and it would be 4 to 6 weeks before I get a response.

  15. Has anyone that left comments here gotten approved yet ?my landlord documents keep going from yes verified to no not verified, this is pure madness

  16. It is august 25. I applied June 2nd. I am in the priority group according to the law.
    I have still to receive word, my landlord is being completely irrational about it (i was someone who paid for the majority of the pandemic despite having NO work), and the document review keeps changing from “no” to “yes” for both landlord and tenant. There is no other application status to be found. My unemployment ended last week. And the moratorium is ending. (As is the COBRA premium). On what planet is this assistance? It is bad enough it requires arrears, and doesn’t take into account the maneuvers many people have gone through to stay current.
    I tried to add July and August to my arrears and the application did not allow me to. When I called, CS put in some kind of request for it, but that came back that I would have to submit a NEW application to add July and august. But it was their delay causing July and august to be in arrears anyway. I truly cannot understand.
    And to top it off, my congressman held an entire Facebook call that answered nothing, and my state senator (who never writes back to constituents anyway) is now the Lt Governor. Oy.

  17. I applied on June 1st. Submitted all the required documents, a few times. A couple of days ago, August 23rd, I received an email that they received my application. 8 weeks later? When I go online to check my status, it is never the same. This is so frustrating and I agree with one of the comments above, it’s cruel. People are stressed beyond words. Stress manifests itself in other ways . Illnesses are a result of this level of stress….especially mental illness. It’s a sad state of affairs.

  18. I am experiencing the same issues application was submitted on June 2,2021. The CCR are stating the same thing that I am seeing online, I bet by the middle of September they still have not disturb the funds to our landlords . There is no way the application has been pending for two months this is mind blowing all we can do is wait.

  19. I applied for ERAP for utility assistance although I was on unemployment after my job was eliminated due to Covid I managed to scrap together and pay my rent . It’s ridiculous that the money is there and it’s not being allocated at a quicker pace.

  20. Can my landlord lie and say I owe them rent to get money for themselves. I have managed to pay my rent every month without delay even after getting pretty sick with covid and on unemployment. But it would be an extreme relief to get some help paying while I look for a new job. I have a feeling my landlord is sending something in stating I owe them back rent (which would be a total lie) just to get themselves some extra money. I would hope they would want proof from both parties. Because if not wtf kind of wasteful program is this. It should be there for people who can’t afford there rent or landlord who are owed money, but not scumbag lying slum lords who are just trying to make a extra money and still gonna make me pay them after receiving the money. Is there some way I can find out if my landlord receives that money? It just seems wrong for a landlord who has experienced no loss of rent payments to lie just to benefit from this program when the person who could actually use a little help (me the tenant) who has payed every month even though I struggled to not have anything deducted from my rent. Something just seems very odd that the state isn’t requiring proof from both parties to make sure these kinds of lies don’t happen. It really pisses me off thinking about it. A slum lord benefits, but the honest, on time tenant gets screwed. What should I do??

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