The rally comes after state lawmakers released budget proposals that include up to $389 million for public housing and Section 8 residents who were left out from the state’s pandemic-era Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). But tenants are pushing for more, pointing to estimates that public housing tenants across New York owe nearly $590 million in rent.
Community activists, NYCHA residents and local leaders gathered on Friday morning in front of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Manhattan office to ask one question: where is the money?
The rally comes just two weeks after state lawmakers released budget proposals that include up to $389 million for public housing and Section 8 residents who were left out from the state’s pandemic-era Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
But tenants are pushing for more, pointing to recent research that estimates public housing tenants across New York owe nearly $590 million in rent.
Gov. Hochul, who released her $227 billion budget proposal in February, did not include any additional funding for ERAP, which closed in January with just enough funds left to cover remaining applications submitted by tenants in private-market apartments, officials have said.
Hochul and lawmakers were continuing to negotiate a final spending plan on Monday, though the budget is now officially late, having missed the state’s April 1 deadline.
Juanita Lewis, the executive director of Community Voices Heard, an organization that fights social and economic injustices in New York, led the rally encouraging NYCHA residents to stand up for their inclusion in the budget.
ERAP, which the state launched to help tenants who’d fallen behind on rent due to pandemic disruptions, gave public housing residents low-priority for the emergency funding, which has so far only gone to applicants and landlords in market-rate units.
More than 73,000 NYCHA households, meanwhile—more than 31,000 of which have applied for ERAP—are behind on their rent payments, collectively owing some $466 million in arrears, a debt that’s quadrupled since 2019 and which the housing authority says is impacting its ability to repair and maintain its buildings.
“We know that COVID took a lot of our friends and our families,” Lewis said. “We know that people lost jobs and the last thing you need to worry about now is whether you have a place to stay—a roof over your head.”
A report from the Community Service Society of New York (a City Limits’ funder) estimates that by June, public housing residents across the state will owe a total of $589.4 million.
NYCHA residents are demanding that Gov. Hochul include that $589.4 million in her budget to help relieve back rent for more than 73,000 public housing tenants in the city and an additional $51 million for residents living in public housing authorities across the state.
Ann Valdez, a NYCHA resident in Coney Island, shared the testimony of a fellow Community Voices Heard member named Maria Arnold. Arnold’s husband died in 2019 and for a while, she had to solely use her own income to pay rent that would have been split between the two of them, according to Valdez.
Arnold, who also pays for medical expenses, applied for ERAP in 2021 and was approved. But she joins roughly 31,000 other NYCHA residents who applied for ERAP and are still waiting for payments.
“What Maria is going through is heartbreaking,” Valdez said. “She and thousands of others are facing eviction after going through family deaths, health issues and other struggles—it isn’t right.”
Barbara Williams, a NYCHA resident in Harlem, said watching her neighbors struggle as they recover financially from COVID is “a slap in the face.”
“These families and our children are depending on our elected officials to come through,” Williams said. “They must put money in this budget to right this very wrong.”
Councilmember and Public Housing Committee Chair, Alexa Avilés said the lives, health and dignity of public housing residents should be prioritized—a practice New York state failed to do when designing ERAP, she argued.
“New York was the only state to put subsidized housing residents at the back of the line for rental assistance,” Avilés said. “That’s a damn shame.”
Avilés called on Hochul to fully invest in NYCHA, which she referred to as the most critical asset to New York City.
“Public housing is social housing,” Avilés said. “It is the one thing that made sure Black and brown communities remain in this city.”