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Lawmakers urge stage agency to open Emergency Rental Assistance applications

Ryan Zunner

Despite $2.4 billion allocated to it in this year’s budget in early April, New York’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program is still not accepting applicants. 

State legislators Sean Ryan and Bill Conrad are urging the State Office of Temporary Disability to open up the program in time for June 1 rent payments.

Chris Burton who manages over two dozen rental units in the City of Buffalo with his wife Allison, said with pandemic hardships facing tenants it’s been a tough time for both sides.

“We really believe in what we're doing with having housing folks can be proud of. We've definitely felt the strain and been squeezed in the middle these past months, with some of our folks not able to make the rent payments due to their hardships,” Burton said. We've been doing everything on our side to keep the utilities running, the mortgages covered. Certainly it's been a struggle, we are reliant on the rent payments each month. We're very much just looking for a change and a way forward.”

The money is there, the agency is there, all that’s needed is state regulations to distribute it. That’s the message from State Senator Ryan on beginning a rent relief program in New York. He said the program is designed to assist middle-class and working-class renters and their landlords, who in Buffalo are often not millionaires themselves.

“We all know the Buffalo story, it's not uncommon for teachers, firefighters, or county workers to own a double or two,” said Ryan. “They make it [renting] a part-time job often to get money for college tuition, or to supplement their salaries a little bit. But these are not folks with big deep pockets. These are people where if a tenant misses a few month's rent, you know, they're gonna feel it themselves.”

Assemblymember Conrad said the State Office of Temporary Disability, who has been tasked with administering the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, needs to start opening up applications before a housing crisis occurs. 

“The state issued a moratorium on evictions, with hopes of alleviating the pressure on renters who were suddenly out of work through no fault of their own,” said Conrad. “But we can't ignore the consequences this has on landlords, especially those here in Western New York, many of whom invest in property or two as a means of supplementing their income or preparing for retirement.”

New York has had eviction moratoriums in place throughout much of the pandemic, with the latest set to expire this August. 

Eviction moratoriums don’t mean rent is suspended, it’s still accrued over time, and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program is designed to pay that debt. Renters apply for assistance in conjunction with their landlord, and funding is awarded based on tenant income level covering up to 12 months of back rent.

Ryan Zunner joined WBFO in the summer of 2018 as an intern, before working his way up to reporter the following summer.
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