NEW YORK — Roughly $2 billion in federal rental assistance remained in the hands of New York State on Sunday, as thousands of tenants continued to struggle to make ends meet amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sen. Chuck Schumer on Sunday released a letter he sent to the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, demanding the agency “move heaven and earth” to quickly release the Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding.
About 1.1 million New York rental households have at least one family member who was economically impacted by the pandemic. More than 90,000 New York City residents and about 1,000 Long Islanders desperately need the cash assistance, according to Schumer.
While some of the federal funding has gone out, Schumer said New York needs to pick up the pace of disbursement as the state’s Aug. 31 eviction moratorium deadline nears.
It’s of particular concern for 57-year-old Hells Kitchen resident Michelle Diaz because the Broadway theater she works in doesn’t reopen until December.
“I’m quite worried actually,” Diaz said.
Diaz doesn’t know how she’s paying her work the next few months and she’s heard that it’s a frustrating and complicated application process to get federal money through the state Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
“There is so many people who don’t have the language, the skills, to know how to navigate it,” Diaz said.
The Emergency Rental Assistance Program came under fire last month after state officials warned it would be weeks before most applicants received payments, adding to delays in a program that has been beset by technical glitches with its online application portal.
As of Thursday, only $117,000 in rent relief had been sent out. According to U.S. Treasury data, New York until this week was the only state that hadn’t distributed any money from the federally funded rent relief program since January.
Altagracia Pierre-Outerbridge, a landlord/tenant attorney at Outerbridge.com, said she gets calls from hundreds of people each week.
“Tenants are calling, crying saying ‘I’m on unemployment, I don’t wanna lose my home,’” Pierre-Outerbridge said.
She works with tenants and with landlors and said both groups find it is really difficult to navigate the state website for the federal relief money, OTDA.NY.GOV.
“It’s very difficult, the application process,” Pierre-Outerbridge said. “It is fraught with problems.”