Glitches With New York’s Rental Assistance Website Confound Tenants Seeking Aid

Some New Yorkers applying for the state’s new rental assistance program say the application website has repeatedly crashed, while a deadline to prioritize the neediest tenants came and went this week.

The state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program opened June 1st with $2.7 billion of funding to help households with income at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI)—$95,450 for a family of four in New York City—with up to 12 months of rental and utility arrears payments. For the first thirty days, the program prioritized applications from lower-income households earning 50% of AMI that have at least one member who’s unemployed, a veteran, or a domestic violence victim, after which the money will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

But Helen Morley of the East Village said she encountered repeated difficulties trying to file her application online.

“This website’s had issues since Day One. On Day One it crashed. And within the second week, people couldn’t upload documents. It’s not like it’s been efficient from the very beginning,” she said. “There’s been problems all along, but they’ve known this was coming. They knew how many people haven’t been paying rent — it’s not a mystery.”

A spokesperson for the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which is administering the program, contended the website has had “minimal” problems with more than 100,000 completed applications submitted.

“To date, technical issues with the ERAP website have been minimal and are being quickly addressed as they are encountered,” said Digital Information Officer Justin Mason in a statement. “The agency has undertaken an unprecedented effort to establish partnerships with local governments across the state to ensure that community-based organizations provide outreach and application assistance while also coordinating with the localities that received rent relief funds directly from the federal government to leverage resources, gain efficiencies, and prevent fraud.”

Mason did not respond to questions about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program website’s specific technical issues.

Even though the priority period ended June 30th, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program program is continuing until funding is depleted, Mason pointed out.

Morley said one issue she ran into was resetting her password to access her application, and noted other applicants have had trouble even setting up accounts or uploading documents. The application also needs to be completed in one sitting because it can’t be saved unfinished, with required documents such as “the renter’s personal identification, Social Security numbers for any household members who have one, and proof of the rental amount, income eligibility, residency and occupancy. Landlords must submit a W-9 tax form, lease, rent roll and banking information,” THE CITY reported.

Several constituents from the southeastern Bronx district that Assembly Member Kenneth Burgos represents had to make numerous appointments to finish the applications. “For about two weeks, they were unable to basically complete these applications because we couldn’t upload a document. So I had to have constituents coming on two or three separate occasions just to complete the document. We couldn’t fax it. We couldn’t upload,” Burgos said. He added, “People have to take time off of work. It’s not conducive for anyone. It’s very frustrating now.”

Morley likened the ordeal to the problems the state unemployment website had last spring as the system was overwhelmed by the influx of New Yorkers who lost their jobs during the pandemic. “I’m so shocked they didn’t learn from the mistakes of the Department of Labor,” said Morley. “They had time, they knew this was coming.”

Burgos agreed, saying “It’s very dysfunctional. I mean, it’s not the first time these state agencies have just botched these programs.”

Morley said she was fortunate to be tech-savvy enough to figure out the process and submit her application successfully, but she worried about other lower-income tenants who might not have the time or resources to repeatedly submit documents and applications.

“There’s all these people out here who don’t have the resources I have to manage this situation, who will throw up their hands and walk away and end up evicted,” she said.

The state’s eviction moratorium has been extended to the end of August.