New York State’s federally funded program to rescue renters hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic has helped just 7,000 families and awarded less than $100 million so far — just a fraction of what’s available, a blistering new audit revealed Monday.
The report from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli revealed that was just a mere fraction of the 168,000 families that have applied for assistance so far and that officials have handed out less than 4 percent of the $2.6 billion the state received from the feds.
“There are billions in federal aid to help renters who fell behind on payments in the pandemic, but this money isn’t getting to them,” said DiNapoli in a statement. “The state can and must do a better job getting this aid into the hands of New Yorkers that could face evictions.”
The report comes as critics and tenant activists ramp up their demands on soon-to-depart Gov. Andrew Cuomo to fix the program, calls that grew louder after the US Supreme Court last week knocked down a key piece of the state’s current evictions moratorium.
“There is enormous need from tenants who fear losing their homes and landlords who need rental assistance to keep their buildings running,” said Judith Goldiner, the top attorney at the Legal Aid Society. “And it’s simply horrifying that months after applications began only 7,000 households have gotten rent paid.”
Additionally, DiNapoli’s audit revealed a slew of other shortcomings, including that Gov. Cuomo’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance did not translate the application into key languages — including Korean, Bengali, French and Italian.
And, it reported that OTDA botched its recent effort to simplify cumbersome paperwork requirements for the application by failing to provide the instructional materials to match.
DiNapoli did credit the Cuomo administration’s recent decision to platoon 350 ‘”volunteer” state employees to the program in an attempt to tackle the apparent backlog, but said it remained unclear if the effort would prove effective.
New York is at risk of losing the federal aid unless it gets the money out the door before September 30, which is just six weeks away.
“While we will review the Comptroller’s findings and are always searching for ways to improve this program, we are dismayed that this report does not accurately reflect the stabilizing impact the program is having for renters and landlords alike,” said OTDA spokesman Justin Mason.
Mason added that the state has provisionally approved another 38,000 applications, worth $525 million, though it has yet to cut the checks. Those payments, he added, will help the state meet the feds’ $780 million threshold to avoid losing the aid.
Meanwhile, a half-dozen lawmakers on Monday called for the Legislature to return to Albany for an emergency session to pass a new eviction moratorium in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision last week.
“Rent relief distribution has thus far been inadequate, and COVID-19 continues to spread at an exponential rate,” read, in part, the statement signed by state Senators Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) and Jabari Brisport (D-Brooklyn), Assemblywomen Phara Souffrant Forrest (D-Brooklyn), Marcela Mitaynes (D-Brooklyn), Emily Gallagher (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani (D-Queens).