This article is adapted from the Rent Update newsletter that focuses on the issues facing renters and landlords during the pandemic. You can sign up here to get it or fill out the form at the bottom of this post.
After more than a year’s wait for substantial relief for tenants and landlords, the application portal for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program opened at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 1.
The application will be available here, and the state will have an assistance hotline at 844-691-7368.
The stakes are high for this rent relief program to go well. The last time New York tried to roll out a rent relief program during the pandemic, the effort failed miserably and thousands of people in need didn’t get help.
The $2.4 billion funding comes from the most recent federal stimulus package, via a program designed and approved by the state Legislature as part of its budget in April. New York is one of the last states in the country to roll out its rent relief program.
To make sure more New Yorkers can get the help they need this time around, the state built in a portion of the funding to pay community-based groups to help with outreach, application assistance and translation and language support. A dozen organizations in the five boroughs received city contracts to help tenants and landlords apply.
The state Office of Temporary Disability and Assistance, the agency distributing the funds, has not released a sample application before the portal opens — to the dismay of both tenant and landlord advocates trying to help prepare applicants. But we have a pretty good idea of what you’ll need to apply.
Here’s what we know so far about the rent relief program and how you will be able to access it.
What does the program cover?
The program covers up to 12 months of rental arrears from the time after March 13, 2020. It also can include up to three months of additional rent assistance — that’s 15 total months.
In addition, electric or gas utility debt can be covered.
Tenants can apply on their own, but they’ll need some documentation from their landlord for the payments to go through. Landlords can also apply on behalf of their tenants, but they will need some personal information and a signature from the tenant to complete the application. The application process will go most smoothly if tenants and landlords are able to cooperate, advocates for both agree.
The payments will go directly to the landlord to cover back rent.
Who is eligible?
To qualify, tenants need to meet all of these requirements:
- Households need a total income at or below 80% of the area median income — $95,450 for a family of four. You can calculate that using your current monthly income or your income from the 2020 calendar year. Unemployment and Social Security benefits count toward that income, but Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits do not. (For more details, check out this FAQ from the state.)
- Someone in the household must have received unemployment benefits, lost income, taken on additional costs or experienced another financial hardship directly or indirectly caused by the pandemic (documentation is outlined below).
- Someone in the household has to be behind on rent owed on or after March 13, 2020.
If you use a Section 8 voucher or live in NYCHA housing, you can still apply.
An important note: Undocumented New Yorkers can apply for rent relief.
You do not need to be a citizen or have any kind of legal immigration status to qualify.
How is the state dishing out the cash?
Tenants who face the highest risk of losing their homes or are otherwise most in need will be given priority for the first 30 days of the program. Anyone can apply starting June 1, but only priority applications will be approved in the first 30 days.
The priority group includes:
- Households with an income at or below 50% of the AMI, equivalent to $59,650 for a family of four.
- Tenants who are currently unemployed
- Tenants with pending eviction cases
- Tenants living in communities that were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 (You can look up to see if your ZIP code fits the criteria for being disproportionately impacted here.)
- Tenants living in buildings with 20 or fewer units
All the details about the priority order are listed on the state’s website.
Starting in July, applications for all eligible households will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, until all the money is distributed.
What materials and documents do you need to apply?
Tenants will likely need the following documents:
- Personal identification for all household members, such as a photo ID, driver’s license or non-driver government issued ID, passport, Benefits Issuance Card, birth or baptismal certificate, or school registration.
- If you have a Social Security number, you’ll need to provide it. But remember, you do not need to have a lawful immigration status or a Social Security number to qualify for the program.
- Proof of rent amount and a signed lease, even if it’s expired. If you don’t have a lease, you can use a rent receipt, a cancelled check or a money order. Otherwise, your landlord can write a letter confirming the rent amount.
- Proof of residency and occupancy, such as a signed lease, rent receipt, utility bill, school records, bank statement, mail with your name on it, an insurance bill or driver’s license.
- Proof of income to document income eligibility. If you don’t have official income documents, you can fill out a form called a “self attestation.” The state will provide that information when the application portal opens.
- If applying for help paying for utility arrears at the same rental unit, you’ll need a copy of a gas or electric utility bill.
On top of providing all of this, you’ll also need to sign a form saying that you have directly or indirectly experienced financial hardship because of the pandemic.
Landlords will likely need the following documents:
- Completed W-9 tax form
- Copy of the lease or a cancelled check, rent receipt or other documentation of the last full monthly rent payment
- Documentation stating how much rent is due
- Banking information to receive direct deposit payment
You’ll also need to sign the application form.
If you don’t have these documents: In certain circumstances, you may be able to self-attest, which means you can fill out a form or write a note stating your income or rent owed if no documents are available.
What role do landlords play in the process? Can landlords apply on behalf of tenants?
Landlords will need to provide the information above to receive funds.
Landlords can start the application process, but there are some parts that tenants will need to fill out. If your landlord starts the process, the state will email and text you to let you know to finish the rest.
Again, the application process seems like it will go smoothest if tenants and landlords cooperate.
What if my landlord doesn’t cooperate?
If a landlord doesn’t provide the necessary information but the state finds the tenant to be eligible for the program, the state will hold the funds aside for the tenant for 180 days.
The state will let the tenant know that their application was deemed eligible. Tenants can use that approval as a defense in court if their landlord tries to evict them for rent that would have been covered by the program.
Does the money come with any conditions or protections?
If a landlord accepts rent relief funds, they can’t charge their tenants late fees on rent owed during the pandemic.
They also can’t increase rent for a year after they receive the relief, and can’t evict the tenant for a year due of an expired lease or case to remove the tenant for unauthorized occupancy.
The exception to this is if an owner of a building with four or fewer units wants a family member to move into a unit, they can evict that tenant.
How will I know if I’ve been approved?
The state will send an award letter to both the tenant and landlord listing the amount to be paid and the tenant protections that are in place because of the relief.
Once you apply, you’ll also be able to track your application status online.
This all sounds mad confusing. Who can help me apply?
The state has a hotline at 844-691-7368, and the city has tapped 12 local organizations to help tenants apply for the program.
Antonio Garcia, director of Catholic Charities Community Services’ eviction prevention program, which is one of the groups helping people apply, said: “If you contact one of these organizations that are providing assistance, your chances of getting an approval are much better. These agencies have advocates who can contact the state. They can make sure people have the right documentation.”
Which community group you can call depends on what borough you’re in. Some are still in the process of setting up hotline numbers, but this is what we know so far. We’ll update this list when more organizations provide hotline numbers.
- BronxWorks — No hotline set up yet, but you can call BronxWorks at 646-393-4000.
- Neighborhood Association for Intercultural Affairs, Inc. (NAICA) — Rent relief hotline: 718-866-0038
- Black Veterans for Social Justice, Inc. — No hotline set up yet, but you can call BVSJ at 718-852-6004.
- Good Shepherd Services (GSS) — No hotline set up yet, but you can call GSS at 212-243-7070.
- Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty — Rent relief hotline: 929-292-9480
- RiseBoro Community Partnership — Rent relief hotline: 718-547-2800
- Catholic Charities Community Services — Rent relief hotline: 888-744-7900
- University Settlement — No hotline set up yet, but you can call University Settlement at 212-453-4500
- Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc — Rent relief hotline: 646-248-6602
- RiseBoro Community Partnership — Rent relief hotline: 718-547-2800
- Catholic Charities Neighborhood Services (CCNS) — No hotline set up yet, but you can call CCNS at 718-722-6001
- Project Hospitality — Rent relief hotline: 929-724-5360
In addition to these organizations, many tenant legal service providers are also preparing to help with applications. See this list.
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