Governor Cuomo said the state is going to make the state’s $2.7 billion rent relief program that’s been the subject of numerous complaints from tenants and landlords easier to access.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program went into effect at the beginning of June, and 160,000 New Yorkers across the state applied so far. But over nearly two months, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), the state agency in charge of the program, has sent out only $117,000 in what it said were test payments designed to ensure the program was working securely.
On Monday, Cuomo said the state would relax documentation requirements for tenants and landlords, streamline the application process, and bring on board at least 350 volunteers from other state agencies to help process applications. The changes would result in payments being sent out for all pending and verified applications by the end of August.
“The COVID pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on New Yorkers all across the State, and they need rental assistance now,” Cuomo said in a statement.
A spokesman for OTDA, Justin Mason, said the agency also made nearly $700,000 in rent relief payments on Monday.
Tenant advocates welcomed adjustments around documentation rules, but said the changes didn’t go far enough because they don’t address issues around the online application portal, which has caused problems for many applicants.
Jack Newton, director of the public benefits unit at Bronx Legal Services, said many of his clients, especially low-income and senior New Yorkers, have found the process challenging because an email address is required to submit an application. The site has also had various technical glitches, and doesn’t allow applications, which can take a few hours to complete, to be saved and resumed.
“So many people struggle both to find the evidence required and find a way to submit it through the portal,” he said.
Landlord groups, which have also been critical of the application process, said they were waiting for more details on the changes. But Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, said the announcement was a start.
“The first step is admitting there is a problem, so we are happy the government has cleared that bar,” he said. “We truly hope the changes announced today will make this process easier. Thousands of lives depend on it.”