Fight over COVID-19 package puts $1B in NY rent aid at risk


More than $1 billion in badly needed rental assistance for New Yorkers is on the line as President Trump and lawmakers in Washington remain at loggerheads over the massive coronavirus aid package Congress passed this week.

The $900 billion economic rescue approved by lawmakers includes $25 billion in assistance for struggling tenants — $1.3 billion of which would be bound for the Empire State if Trump inks the deal.

It would be a massive supplement to the state’s beleaguered $100 million program to help residents struggling during the coronavirus pandemic with rent.

“New Yorkers are in dire need of the $1.3 billion in rent relief which would be allocated for New York State in the stimulus package,” said Judith Goldiner, the top lawyer at the Legal Aid Society. “Without that money New York tenants face a bleak New Year.”

Reps for the state’s top federal lawmaker, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, echoed the plea.

“Senator Schumer fought hard to secure this critical $1.3 billion in rent relief to New Yorkers and he will not rest until it is delivered,” said spokesman Angelo Roefaro.

Legal Aid estimates that at least 40,000 households in the five boroughs are already at severe risk of eviction if the partial moratorium currently in place ever lifts — and that hundreds of thousands more New Yorkers are behind on their rent and bills due to the economic havoc caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

A recent survey estimated that 1.3 million people statewide could be at risk of eviction, news non-profit The City revealed in November. As early as July, landlords were reporting that as many as 25 percent of city households had missed a rent payment.

NY Sen. Chuck Schume
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Matthew McDermott

Congress passed the aid package by overwhelming majorities this week. But its future is now uncertain after President Trump made a last-minute demand to more than triple the $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 — only to be rebuffed by his fellow Republicans.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the law is eventually signed, New York state officials would score $887 million in federal funds that can be used to help residents anywhere across the state.

The legislation also sets aside an additional $251 million dedicated for residents of the five boroughs, $63 million for Long Island and another $29 million for Westchester, according to figures provided by Schumer’s office.

More than 83,000 New Yorkers applied for help, but the state initially rejected more than 57,000 of the applications because of how strict the eligibility rules are, tenant advocates say.

Applicants must have been making less than 80 percent of the city’s average income before the crisis and they have to prove with paystubs or other paperwork they’ve been financially hurt by COVID-19 economic downturn.

State officials recently nixed a rule that required applicants to also prove that at least 30 percent of their income went to rent before the crisis, too, after Gov. Andrew Cuomo publicly acknowledged the criteria for the program were too restrictive.

Even then, the state program’s small size means it has provided qualified needy city renters with median awards of less than $2,000.

“The pandemic has clearly put even more pressure on New Yorkers who were already housing insecure,” said a spokesman for the state’s Housing and Community Renewal division. “By revising the program’s eligibility criteria and reopening the application window, we can expand access to rent relief while building on Governor Cuomo’s eviction protections.”

– Additional reporting by Ebony Bowden in Washington D.C.

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