By: Hellen Zaboulani
Time has run out for home renters to apply for New York State’s Covid-19 Rent Relief Program. Advocacy groups were working hard to extend the application period, but to no avail.
As reported by Crain’s NY, the application time for the program from the Division of Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) expired on Thursday, after having been extended for a week on July 30. “The Legislature designed the COVID Rent Relief Program to help New Yorkers who are the most at-risk and rent burdened after losing income due to the pandemic,” the agency’s commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said earlier in the month, in a statement. Launched on July 16, the program has received over 90,000 applications. The HCR agency will now take on the task of reviewing the applications, and sorting them to prioritize those with the greatest financial hardship.
The initiative works to grant renters a one-time subsidy for up to four months of financial assistance. The application was online and available in multiple languages. The state Office for New Americans and several community groups were also working to help non-English-speaking residents to apply. In order to qualify, tenants needed to earn below 80% of the area’s median income, and spend over 30% of their monthly income on rent before March 1. Another criteria is that the applicant must have suffered financial loss as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic between April 1 and July 31. The money will not cover the full rent, but rather works to cover the difference between the household’s “rent burden” on March 1 and the increase in rent burden due to the impact from coronavirus.
State Sen. Brian Kavanagh had been among those who advocated for the program’s extension, to give people additional time for applying. He said it would also give HCR a head start in processing the applications. “Obviously, some people would have benefited from more time, but this isn’t our last effort to make sure people have rental assistance,” Kavanagh said, “so I think, at this point, we’re going to shift our focus to make sure they process these applications rapidly.”
Advocacy groups had entreated the state to extend the application time till Aug. 28, due to complaints from applicants who said they had problems with language as well as technical issues. The groups are still upset that the HCR did not meet their demands and ended the application process. “Thousands of tenants are still confronted with the possibility of being homeless as HCR decides to shut down the Rent Relief Program,” said Anita Long, a leader with Community Action for Safe Apartments. She also called the program “deliberately underfunded from the beginning.”