Allison Dikanovic, THE CITY
The coming end of the year brings some promising news for tenants economically slammed by the pandemic: another shot at rent relief for tens of thousands and a deal to push the residential eviction moratorium through May 1.
Here’s the latest:
A new eviction moratorium bill passes
The state Assembly and Senate reconvened Monday for a rare special session before the end of the year to pass a new residential eviction moratorium bill.
Before lawmakers voted, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters: “As soon as that bill is passed, I’ll sign it.”
The new law has the potential to protect tenants from eviction through May 1, 2021 if they fill out a form saying they’ve been impacted by the pandemic. The moratorium would suspend eviction proceedings for the next 60 days to give tenants a chance to fill out that form.
The measure, passed with current pandemic-spurred eviction bans set to expire at the end of the year, also offers some protections for homeowners and small landlords who own less than 10 apartments.
Meanwhile, there’s a new rent relief program
Last week, both the state and federal government announced more aid is on the way for renters. But it’s still somewhat unclear who will qualify to get the money — and when.
You might remember that New York’s rent relief program was only able to give out $40 million of the $100 million it had from the federal government because, as tenants and their advocates noted, eligibility requirements were too narrow. Only 16% of the more than 94,000 renters who applied were approved. Lawmakers, advocates, renters and landlords were all worried that the unspent $60 million would have to go back to Washington instead of to tenants in need.
So, the governor said he was going to do something about that $60 million…
Earlier this month, Cuomo said he would issue an executive order to expand the eligibility requirements for the rent relief program so more of the 1.2 million New Yorkers who are at risk of eviction could qualify for the money.
More than two weeks later, the executive order has not yet been issued.
However, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the agency charged with distributing the state’s rent relief funds, announced a new expanded set of requirements and reopened the program’s application window on Dec. 18.
This is seemingly good news for renters looking for relief…
Ideally, it means that more New Yorkers will qualify for the rent relief program and will receive a payment to cover a portion of their rent costs for the first months of the pandemic.
The relief program does not cover full back rent owed. It can supplement part of a household’s income for the months of April to July 2020 to keep a tenant’s rent burden the same.
So if you were paying 30% of your income toward rent before the pandemic, but you lost a lot of that income, the state will pay the difference to ensure you did not have to pay more than 30% of your reduced income toward rent for April through July 2020. (Yes, it’s complicated.)
If you were previously denied, read this:
The requirements to qualify changed slightly, so some people who were originally denied may now be approved. According to a DHCR spokesperson, the agency will be re-evaluating every that application was denied or is in the appeal process to see whether those households now qualify for relief. All told, DHCR officials are reconsidering some 79,000 applications.
This means: If you were denied, you shouldn’t have to reapply.
Should you apply? Read this:
If you wanted to apply but missed the original three-week application window over the summer, you now have until Feb. 1. You can apply here or call 1-833-499-0318.
If you didn’t know this program existed, weren’t sure you qualified or determined you didn’t and skipped applying, here’s what you should know:
The new rules no longer require tenants to have been “rent burdened” before the pandemic. In the original version of the rent relief program, you had to show you were paying more than 30% of your income toward your rent before March 1 to qualify for the relief. If you were “rent burdened” between April 1 and July 31, 2020, you could qualify.
The rest of the original requirements remain in place, and all of the documentation that was needed to apply the first time is still required, according to a DHCR spokesperson.
The full requirements are:
- You must be a renter with a primary residence in New York State.
- You must have lost income between April 1 and July 31, 2020.
- Before March 7, your household income must have been at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (look at page 7 of this document to see where you fit on).
- You must have been rent burdened between April 1 and July 31, 2020.
Edward Josephson, director of litigation for Legal Services NYC, said: “It’s worth it to apply. This debt is a real burden, and getting four months of partial rent is more than nothing.”
Did you receive that extra $600 per week from unemployment? You might miss out on the rent relief…
A major concern housing advocates, tenant organizers and legal service providers had with the original rent relief program was that the timing of the application period coincided with the last weeks of additional federal unemployment assistance from the CARES Act. In other words: that extra $600 a week.
Critics said that with this additional benefit, it would appear on the application that the candidate didn’t lose income — even though that benefit would have disappeared the following week.
Well, the new rules for the program don’t change anything about that. We don’t know exactly how many New Yorkers fall into this category.
Ellen Davidson, a tenant attorney for the Legal Aid Society, said: “The lessons that seem to have been learned across the country is that loosening up the eligibility requirements is key to getting the money out the door, and extending the program past the time when people were receiving pandemic unemployment is key to getting money out the door. It was incredibly disappointing to see that New York State chose a different route. It chose to make the program as difficult to navigate as it was previously.”
Why navigating rent relief is also complicated for those who are undocumented
Tenants without legal status who don’t live with anyone in their household with any kind of legal status — like children who are U.S. citizens or those with green cards — still don’t qualify for the program. Advocates say that excludes some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers who already don’t qualify for most other forms of aid. Studies estimate that nearly 200,000 undocumented workers in the city have lost income during the pandemic.
A few other things changed…
- Tenants who are unable to or uncomfortable with applying online can do so over the phone, according to a DHCR spokesperson. Before if you couldn’t apply online, you had to send in a paper form through the mail. You can call 1-833-499-0318. You can also call this same number for translation services or if you have any other questions about your application.
- DHCR will update renters who applied online about the status of their application via email, including folks who were denied previously.
- Lastly, this time around, the payments will be made on a rolling basis as soon as DHCR receives and verifies all of the needed documentation from tenants and landlords, instead of waiting until after the application period closes.
And how does this fit into the $900 billion federal stimulus bill?
Really good question. The answer is: It’s not immediately clear. The new $900 billion federal stimulus bill includes $25 billion in rent assistance, but we don’t have many details yet on how that will be disbursed.
On Monday, Cuomo and his budget director said they’re waiting on federal guidelines to see how much money will go to New York and what it can be spent on.
“This bill that they passed in Washington has several relief funds for certain groups and certain functions in this state,” Cuomo said. “This is three drops of water in the bucket and the bucket is empty… it’s almost inconsequential.”
For tenants: We get a lot of questions from tenants. We do our best to find answers. Please keep sending your questions, concerns and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re facing eviction now or are worried about losing your housing and want to tell us about it, fill out this questionnaire.
For homeowners: We also get a lot of questions from homeowners who rent out a unit or more. We’re working on answering these questions for a future update. If you’re a homeowner who rents to tenants who haven’t been able to pay during the pandemic, we want to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com.
What else we’re reading:
- THE CITY showed how some of the pitfalls of the rent relief program are impacting tenants.
- The Daily News explained the new moratorium bills the state legislature is voting on in the special session.
- THE CITY broke down what the federal stimulus package means for New Yorkers.
- Vox wrote about a study that shows evictions led to more COVID deaths.
- The 19th reported on how the eviction crisis is hitting Black women the hardest, while Politico also detailed the uneven impact of evictions.
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