More Than 100K NYC Tenants Are Still Waiting for COVID Rent Relief

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Three and a half years after the start of the pandemic, more than 100,000 New York City tenants are still waiting for federal COVID-19 rent relief money administered by the state, according to data from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office.

The five boroughs received the lion’s share of the money — which goes toward low-income tenants who have been struggling with back rent since March 2020 — because New York City has far and away more rent-burdened tenants than any other part of New York state, and also has the most people waiting for funds.

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There are 108,044 tenants in New York City waiting for COVID rent-relief money, which is 70 percent of the unpaid applications statewide. New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) residents seem to make up the majority of renters who have not yet received the cash, which is typically sent to landlords to cover up to 12 months of unpaid back rent, plus up to three months of future payments. Applicants have to prove they are low-income, experienced a loss of income from the pandemic, and owe unpaid rent from sometime after March 13, 2020.

And while the comptroller’s office could not provide the exact number of NYCHA tenants who had applied for pandemic rent relief, it did point out that city ZIP codes that include public housing projects account for 79 percent of unpaid applications.

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced in May that NYCHA would get the majority of $391 million in new state funds for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which covers pandemic-era back rent. NYCHA households had filed 33,000 applications totaling $128 million in rent arrears, City Limits reported at the time.

Rahul Jain, the state deputy comptroller for New York City, pointed out that the state legislature had capped the amount of ERAP funding that NYCHA could receive at $128 million, even if the agency needs more. The state Senate estimated that NYCHA tenants likely need $501 million in ERAP rent relief, while nonprofit the Community Service Society of New York put the figure at $589 million.

“It does seem as though there’s demand there still,” Jain said of public housing tenants who need rent relief. “[NYCHA] can’t get the difference between $128 million and $391 million.”

He also noted that there had been a spike in landlords filing nonpayment and eviction cases in housing court as ERAP protections expired. The program protects tenants from eviction for a year after they have filed their application, but for many low-income New Yorkers who applied in 2020 and 2021 that year has come and gone. The state’s ERAP portal closed to new applications in January.

In 2022, the number of nonpayment cases in New York City housing court reached 89,046, up 169 percent from 2021, the comptroller’s office found. The statewide, pandemic-era eviction moratorium prevented landlords from starting new eviction cases for nearly two years, from March 2020 to January 2022.

All told, ERAP funding has benefited about 186,625 households in New York City, according to the state comptroller’s office. On average, city renters received $13,289, greater than the statewide average but less than what tenants received in most parts of Long Island or the Hudson Valley.

Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com.