“I am panicking about getting evicted,” Paulette James told BK Reader.

James, a Flatbush resident, is a steering committee member of the Flatbush Tenants Coalition. She said there are a lot of renters, including herself, who have landlords that would be “happy to get us out.” And naturally, they feel quite vulnerable right now.

She and her neighbors are far from alone. An estimated 500,000 New York City households are in arrears on their rent, owing landlords more than $2.2 billion, according to a New York Times report. 

With the eviction moratorium expiration looming and the state slow to roll out its emergency rent relief program, many are bracing for catastrophe. 

“I haven’t heard of anybody getting this rental assistance,” said James, who applied more than a month ago.

She added, “I see papers from the landlord on my neighbors’ doors, and it’s hard to know what’s going on but nobody I know has got a notice of approval.”

Help on the way

State Sen. Roxanne Persaud (whose district includes parts of Canarsie, East New York, and Mill Basin) told BK Reader that long-delayed rental assistance to struggling New Yorkers was on the way.

The Brooklyn Democrat said, “at least 41,000 notices [of emergency rental assistance approval] are going out this week. If you have a case pending against you in court, you can show that letter.” 

The COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, is a state program administered by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA). 

Among the benefits, the program covers up to 12 months of unpaid rent and utilities accrued since March 13, 2020, for those who meet eligibility measures.

Persaud, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Service, and Sen. Brian Kavanaugh, chair of the Senate Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development, presided over a public hearing on Aug. 19 to find out why OTDA was slow in distributing approval letters and funds.

OTDA Commissioner Michael Hein told the lawmakers that New York was several months behind some other states in distributing its federal rental assistance funds. 

His agency had to wait until after the state budget was approved to launch the program. That happened less than two months before the application process started, he explained, according to Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle newspaper. 

“OTDA was playing catch up from day one,” Hein stated, adding that the agency was slammed with 100,000 applications in the first month of launching the program.

There were also issues with the agency’s call center system and website that added to the delay, Persaud told BK Reader. Completing the application process requires website users to gather multiple documents and pieces of information, but the website was not designed to allow users to save their applications. Lawmakers are monitoring improvements to those systems.

Who should be responsible?

James thinks it might be more efficient to have the landlords do the paperwork.

“Putting it on us, on tenants who are trying to make ends meet, is just wasting time and resources,” she said. “Big corporate landlords have the money and staff to apply for their money.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.

“New York state’s eviction moratorium expires on the 31st of August,” she emphasized, “that’s why we’re trying to ensure that everyone who qualifies for the ERAS program receives their funding to pay the arrears or receives a letter.” 

The senator encouraged people who experienced financial difficulties during the pandemic not to “sit back and do nothing.”

“You have to come forward. There are so many people who are ashamed to say I’m unable to pay my rent or to buy food for their house,” she said.

“We want to ensure people don’t become homeless, whether it’s the owner of a house or someone who’s renting. The mission is to make sure that they remain in their home.”

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Nigel Roberts

Nigel Roberts is a New York-based, award-winning freelance journalist. During his career, Nigel has written for several newspapers and magazines. He has extensive experience covering politics and was a...

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