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State rent assistance checks begin going out, nearly 2 months after program opened

Eviction notice

Sen. Charles Schumer is blasting Albany for not getting out the billions of dollars intended for paying rent to keep people from being evicted.

It's a real shot at Gov. Andrew Cuomo, because the money is funneled through the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance — and it's a lot of money.

New York is just beginning to deliver emergency rental assistance to landlords and tenants statewide. It comes nearly 18 months into the state’s eviction moratorium. The state opened applications for its Emergency Rental Assistance Program in June and almost two months later, help is just now trickling in.

“It’s just taking forever—I don’t know why they’re taking so long,” said Jim Walley, a landlord with a few dozen properties in Broome and Tioga Counties. “Do they want the tenants to be in there, not paying their rent, putting the burden on the landlord? What is the motive behind not expediting this program?”

Walley said landlords and tenants have largely been left in the dark throughout the ERAP application process. He sent in eight applications for assistance, although many more of his roughly 100 tenants, he added, are weeks or months behind on rent.

“I’m at 70% of my normal collections,” Walley said. “So it’s kind of hard to pay the bills when you’re collecting only 70% of your rents.”

About 160,000 applications have been submitted for the emergency assistance program so far. Anthony Farmer, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an emailed statement that test payments were made a week ago and OTDA is now ready to “safely and efficiently deliver billions of dollars in rental assistance to New Yorkers.”

Awards will first go out to applicants who meet the criteria for priority payments. Farmer wrote that more than 100,000 applications will be prioritized in order to target initial payments to those who need them most.

Prioritized applicants include those who have been unemployed for at least 90 days, veterans, survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, mobile home residents, people living in a community that was disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 or living in a home with 20 or fewer units, as well as those who have an eviction case pending in court.

In addition to at least one of those classifications, applicants must have a household income at or below 50% of the area median income in order to qualify for priority status.

Schumer said more than $1 billion was shipped just last week for rental assistance, on top of $1.3 billion earlier from federal COVID-19 assistance legislation. During a Manhattan rally, Schumer called on the ODTA to "move heaven and earth to fix the mess, pick up the pace and get the money out the door."

If the money isn't spent by September, it will probably go back to Washington and leave the tenants without money to pay the rent.

While much of the money will go to New York City and its suburbs with their traditionally high rents, a lot will be coming to Western New York. In a breakdown released in March, the senator said around $6 million is aimed at Buffalo and more than $15 million should go to Erie County outside of the city.

There might even be more, as details are worked out, but it has to go out. New York's moratorium on evictions ends Aug. 31.

Jillian Forstadt
Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.