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The Editorial Board: Fix the snags in federal rent relief to help both tenants and landlords

The Editorial Board: Fix the snags in federal rent relief to help both tenants and landlords

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Eviction ban's end will allow pandemic lockouts to resume

Gary Zaremba knocks on an apartment door as he checks in with tenants in the New York City borough of Queens. With the Supreme Court dealing a blow to the state's eviction moratorium, the best help for both landlords and tenants is ending the delays that hinder the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The push to extend New York State’s eviction moratorium past its Aug. 31 expiration date is occupying Gov. Kathy Hochul and Democratic leaders of the Legislature this week.

After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this month that substantially weakened the state moratorium, extending it may involve more symbolism than substance.

A more urgent concern is the need to deliver more than $1 billion in backed-up federal rent relief funds to tenants and landlords. The U.S. designated up to $2.7 billion for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, but much of the money has not been distributed.

Hochul, on her first day as governor, declared that getting rent relief money to those who need it is a high priority.

“I want the money out now,” she said. “I want it out with no more excuses or delays.”

Unlike an eviction moratorium, aid from the rental assistance program benefits both tenants and landlords or property owners, and it helps utility companies get paid from tenants who are in arrears. The renter and landlord must work together in filling out an application to demonstrate need. Assistance payments are then made directly to the landlord or property owner and utility company on behalf of the tenant.

One reason much of the money has not been distributed is that many eligible individuals are unaware of the program. Hochul said the state would spend $1 million on marketing and outreach – a worthy investment to help struggling New Yorkers make the most of available help.

Beyond knowing that they need to apply, many residents eligible for aid will need help with the application process. The program’s website, administered by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, has been plagued by glitches since the program opened June 1. Completing the applications, which require input from the tenants and landlords, requires some digital savviness. (Start here to find the application.)

Hochul recognized the need for more personnel to smooth out the application process. She said last week that 100 contract workers would be reassigned to work with landlords on the applications.

In addition to rent relief funds – up to 12 months’ payments for past rent and a possible three months for future rent – the program – acronym ERAP – offers tenants some protection from being evicted. Once tenants complete the application, any eviction proceedings against them are paused until they learn if they are approved for aid. If approved, they can’t be evicted for a full year.

The U.S. Supreme Court during August struck down the federal eviction moratorium and weakened New York State’s version. The court ruled last week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the authority to extend the federal moratorium without explicit authorization from Congress. Hochul called the ruling “appalling and insensitive.”

Earlier, the high court voided an integral part of the state moratorium that allowed tenants to stop eviction proceedings by signing a form declaring they were suffering hardships due to Covid-19. The court said landlords are entitled to challenge their tenants’ claims of hardship in court.

Hochul was meeting with leaders from the Legislature and discussed calling lawmakers into a special session to address the expiring state moratorium. It’s not clear how a new moratorium would work, given the constraints from the Supreme Court.

The ERAP aid will help tenants, landlords and utility companies, plus protect applicants from eviction. While lawyers debate the language of future moratoriums, getting this program unstuck should be a top priority for the new governor.

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Related to this story

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday she was in talks to call a special session of the state legislature after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration's temporary federal ban on evictions, just days ahead of the expiration of the state's own ban Aug. 31.

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