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NY Rent Relief Begins To Slowly Trickle In, But Landlords Say Not Fast Enough

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—New York is beginning to deliver emergency rental assistance to landlords and tenants statewide. It comes nearly 18 months into the state’s eviction moratorium, and, to landlords, it is long overdue.

New York opened applications for its $2.7 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) in June. 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 percent of my normal collections,” Walley said. “So it’s kind of hard to pay the bills when you’re collecting only 70 percent of your rents.”

Meanwhile, water and construction costs are skyrocketing, making repairs more expensive. That is especially difficult, Walley said, when the properties he owns are experiencing more wear and tear because tenants are at home more often than they were before the pandemic.

“You have to do what you can, as cheaply as you can to save money where you can,” Walley said. “Not that you’re going to do it cheap, per se, but I do a lot more labor myself.”

Before the pandemic, Walley had two full-time employees to help with maintenance. One was let go before the pandemic, and another left just as it began, but Walley has not replaced them.

Two other people do casual, periodic work for him—mostly odd jobs, such as mowing lawns.

Each additional day, Walley has awaited the approval of his ERAP applications. He said, the more he waits, he worries that his share of the ERAP fund will shrink.

“What if all our money gets eaten up before it’s issued? They’re not going to just hold all these applications and all the money that’s here,” Walley stressed. “What if it’s a month from now, and now they owe July? Now they owe August. Are they going to pay July and August here?”

The longer the state waits to issue rental assistance, the majority of which was funded by federal resources, the more likely it is tenants will continue to fall short on payments.

About 160,000 applications have been submitted for the emergency assistance program so far, including over 1,100 applications for rent arrears in Broome County.

The New York Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) is administering the program. Anthony Farmer, a spokesperson for the agency, wrote in an emailed statement that test payments were made last Monday and OTDA is now ready to “safely and efficiently deliver billions of dollars in rental assistance to New Yorkers.”

Only a small share of the awards, Farmer wrote, was released in the test batch. Walley was not among the recipients.

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 percent of the area median income in order to qualify for priority status.

Two of the eight tenants Walley filed an application with, he said, have pending eviction cases against them. Tenants who have submitted a completed application remain protected from eviction.

Court dates for Walley's evictions are set for the fall, when the statewide eviction moratorium is set to expire. But Walley said he would dismiss those evictions if tenants get current on their rent.

Families in several of his properties are paying rent in multiple installments, he said, so they can catch up over time and avoid eviction.

“The one thing we don’t want to do is make them homeless. We’d rather work with them and keep them in an apartment,” Walley said.

But Walley said he also has money due, close to $30,000 a month, to keep up with mortgage payments on his properties. Whether or not tenants are approved for rental assistance, he said he needs to collect the rent he is owed.