New Yorkers who owe back rent can once again apply for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) after a judge ordered the state to reopen applications, citing what could be a substantial second round of funding in March. But the federal government has yet to approve a new round of cash for the tapped-out fund, and eviction protections end Saturday.

Sadef Kully

The scene from a 2020 protest by Housing Justice for All.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is once again urging the federal government to replenish New York’s tapped-out rent relief fund after more than 1,300 additional households applied to the state’s reactivated assistance program.

New York’s expansive pandemic eviction protections will expire Saturday, Jan. 15, but Hochul has said she will not seek to prolong the prohibition on most evictions that began in March 2020. While grassroots tenant groups have pushed for a wintertime eviction suspension, state lawmakers have backed off calls for another extension.

Instead, leaders have pointed to other ways to curb evictions in New York City, including state rent relief and municipal grants, known as one-shot deals, to cover back rent and a right to an attorney for low-income tenants who are at risk of losing their homes.

In a letter Thursday, Hochul joined governors of New Jersey, California and Illinois to ask U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to streamline the allocation of a second round of Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) funding to direct more money to landlords on behalf of tenants who fell behind on rent and are facing eviction.

New York and the other states “are facing an immediate need now, and unused emergency funding that is eligible for reallocation should be deployed in an accelerated manner to keep families stabilized and housed as we continue to address the current surge of COVID-19,” wrote Hochul and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, California Gov. Gavin Newsome and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams also called on the federal government to replenish the rental assistance fund during a press conference outside Manhattan’s Housing Court Thursday.

“New York City has the highest rents in the nation,” Adams said. “The federal government must help working people in this state.”

The federal government provided an extra $27 million in ERAP funding to New York in December 2020, but that amount represented less than 3 percent of Hochul’s request for roughly $1 billion. The Treasury Department will soon reallocate some unused money that was part of its first ERAP allotment, known as ERA1, to states in need of additional rental assistance, but it is not clear how much New York will receive. Treasury will determine a second round of payments, known as ERA2, by the end of March.

Since June 2021, New York’s rent relief fund has directed cash to property owners on behalf of more than 100,000 households who owed arrears as a result of the pandemic and related economic crisis. That money has allowed landlords to recoup lost income, while preventing tens of thousands of potential evictions.

But Hochul and the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) decided to close the state’s ERAP portal in November after demand far outpaced the available cash. The program began in June with roughly $2.4 billion in reserve and has since received nearly 300,000 applications, leaving the state unable to pay out about 85,000 applicants.

New Yorkers who owe back rent can once again apply for ERAP funding, however. OTDA reactivated the application process at 10 p.m. Tuesday night after a state judge earlier this month ordered them to resume the process, citing what could be a substantial second round of funding in March.

An ERAP application also allows renters to delay or stave off an eviction because state law prohibits a judge from ordering an ERAP applicant out of their home until their eligibility is determined. By accepting the payment, property owners agree not to evict a tenant for at least a year.

To qualify for ERAP funding, renters must earn less than 120 percent of Area Median Income (AMI)—$128,880 for a family of three in New York City—and owe arrears dating back no earlier than March 13, 2020.

The vast majority of ERAP applicants have been among the lowest income residents of New York. Statewide, about 69 percent reported earning less than 30 percent of AMI, or $32,200 for a family of three, according to OTDA reports. Another 20 percent earn between 30 and 50 percent of AMI—no more than $53,700 for a family of three in the city.

Far more New Yorkers are at risk of eviction, but have not applied for assistance.

A recent survey by the Community Service Society of New York (a City Limits funder) found that one in four low-income tenants are behind on their rent, with Black and Latino women at the highest risk of eviction. At the same time, rents have risen for more than 40 percent of low-income respondents, CSSNY found.

Echoing the initial glitchy launch of the program last year, new applicants said they one again encountered technical errors when attempting to complete the process in the hours after its relaunch this week. Yet more than 1,300 managed to send their submissions in anyway, OTDA said.

Legal Aid Society housing attorney Ellen Davidson said that number, despite confusion and some glitches, illustrates the dire need for rental assistance statewide. “Sadly, tenants learned about the program after it closed and they applied as soon as it reopened,” Davidson said.

She said Legal Aid and other legal service providers have advised tenants at risk of eviction to respond to court papers and connect with an attorney to navigate a complex process—even if a tenant has already been served with a warrant by a marshal.

“All hope is not lost for these tenants,” Davidson said. “They need to reach out to the courts, get an attorney and come up with a way to resolve the case.”