Helping Hands for Rent Relief

The launch of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) in New York City this month brought both its ups and its downs.

On the positive side, the $2B program is sure to benefit thousands of eligible low- to moderate-income households at risk of eviction. ERAP can provide up to a year of rent paid back, a year of utility bills, and 3 months of future rent if a tenant experienced financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, amongst other eligibility terms.

ERAP prioritized the most economically disadvantaged individuals during the first 30 days of its availability, for which they had a list of criteria, but that didn’t stop the applications from rolling in like wildfire. Within the first two weeks of its launch on June 1, over 90,000 families applied to receive assistance.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming amount of traffic became too much for the site to handle. Many experienced glitches in the form of error messages, making it impossible for them to apply when they were able and ready.

Propmodo reported on June 21 that the technical issues that first arose had been resolved, but according to Law 360, the option to save and resume an application later had remained, “temporarily suspended” for some time. Since the application takes a while to complete, this created stress for those who had already begun their application and had to start a new one, those who found it difficult to finish in one sitting, and landlords assisting multiple tenants.

North Brooklyn organization St. Nicks Alliance, who has been offering ERAP application assistance to households in need, reported previously running into inconveniences of their own on the website. Rolando Guzman, Deputy Director of Community Preservation, said that if a document wasn’t uploaded properly, applications would have to be completely re-entered since they could not be saved. The 30–45 minutes it normally took to apply easily turned into 2 hours, which caused missed opportunities for the organization to help more families.

However, despite the setbacks, St. Nicks Alliance has been determined to get applicants proper help. As soon as the program was developed and available, the Community Preservation team began doing outreach in daycare centers, churches, and more to get the word out.

“We knew that there was a great demand for this service,” Guzman said. “We know that there are long-term low-income tenants who have a possibility of being displaced. We want to make sure North Brooklyn residents have the resources to make sure they are able to stay in this community.”

Rolando Guzman said that he noticed the save-and-resume feature of the application had been restored sometime around the last weekend in June. One minor pitfall of the resolved problem is that all applicants whose documents were not uploading into the system must be re-entered from the beginning, so be advised that you will have to resubmit if you experienced this. Luckily, going forward, attachments are now uploading to applicants’ profiles properly and applications can now be resumed to add new documents.

“It is still an inconvenience, but the save-and-resume feature is now helping us streamline applications,” he said. “Now we at St. Nicks Alliance are able to submit more of them.”

If you’re wondering if you may be eligible for ERAP, the terms include being at risk of housing instability due to falling behind in rent since March 2020, experiencing financial hardship, and being at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income. There is no requirement in terms of immigration status.

Applications are now reviewed on a first come first served basis and take about four to six weeks to be processed. There is currently no deadline listed, but considering the limit to funding, households are encouraged to apply on the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance website as soon as possible to make sure they receive rent relief.

If you require help applying, be sure to have someone (landlord, household member, etc.) available at the time of completion or contact one of the following: a community organization listed on the ERAP page of the NYC.gov website, OTDA’s call center at 1-844-691-7368, or St. Nicks Alliance at 718-388-9190 ext. 690.

Author: Kassondra Gonzalez

Communications Associate and Contributor of the Greenline.

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