New York Adopts Much-Needed COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program of 2021

On April 16, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program of 2021 (the “Program”), which extends rental and utility assistance to low-income and moderate-income New York residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability. With the eviction and foreclosure moratorium expiring on Aug. 31, 2021, the Program provides much-needed relief for qualifying New York tenants.

To be eligible under the Program for rental assistance or rental and utility assistance, a household seeking assistance must meet the following criteria: (1) the household must be a tenant obligated to pay rent in that household’s primary residence in the State of New York; (2) the household must include an individual who has qualified for unemployment or experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced other financial hardship due to the COVID-19 outbreak; (3) the household must demonstrate a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and (4) the household’s income must be at or below 80 percent of the area median income (“AMI”), adjusted for household size.

In determining qualification for assistance under the Program, the household’s immigration status is not considered, and the household income is determined based on either the household’s total income for 2020, or the household’s monthly income at the time the application for assistance is submitted. Households may qualify for up to 12 months of past due rent and utilities starting as of March 13, 2020, and up to three months of future rental assistance for those households whose rental obligation accounts for 30 percent or more of that household’s gross monthly income.

College students who are still claimed by their parents or legal guardians as dependents on their tax filings are not eligible to receive rental or utility assistance under the Program. Further, the rental assistance provided under this Program is paid directly to the landlord and the utility assistance is paid directly to the utility provider, unless they refuse to participate into the Program.

The Program is administered by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (“OTDA”), but local municipalities have an option to administer  their own Programs. For example, as of the date of this article, the following municipalities are administering their own Programs, and residents in those municipalities must apply for assistance directly to those municipalities: City of Rochester and Monroe County, the City of Yonkers, Onondaga County and the towns of Hempstead, Islip, and Oyster Bay.

In processing applications for assistance, OTDA or the applicable municipality will first prioritize applications from those households whose income does not exceed 50 percent of the AMI adjusted for household size and households who have one or more individuals who are unemployed as of the date of the application and have not been employed for 90 days preceding such date. Further, priority will be granted to those who meet the following criteria: (1) households who are tenants of mobile homes or mobile home parks whose unpaid rent or utilities have accrued for the land on which the mobile home is located; (2) households who include one or more individuals from a vulnerable population, including, but not limited to, victims of domestic violence, survivors of human trafficking, or veterans; (3) households who have eviction cases that are pending; (4) households who are residing in communities that were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic based on a methodology to be determined by OTDA; and (5) households who reside in a building or development of no more than 20 units.

In light of the upcoming expiration of the eviction and foreclosure moratorium this summer, New York State’s adoption of the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program of 2021 provides a much needed and timely relief for New York low-income and moderate-income residents at risk of eviction, and is a positive step towards the end of the deleterious financial effects of the pandemic.

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