By Michael Cassie, associated Press
Andrew Cuomo announced last July that New York would spend $ 100 million in federal coronovirus relief to pay months-of-rent and average evictions to cash-strapped tenants.
By the end of October, the state had invested only $ 40 million, reaching 15,000 out of nearly 100,000 people looking for help. More than 57,000 applicants were refused due to the criteria set by MPs, many of whom said it was difficult to meet.
The New York experience played around the country, helping states avoid renting for the purpose of failing to spend tens of federal dollars. Poor requirements, poorly administered programs and landlords’ refusal to cooperate meant that tens of thousands of tenants were never assisted. Some states also shifted funds from rental relief, fearing they would miss a year-end to spend the money – a deadline that extended.
Housing Advocates said the problem was that the federal government had not taken any steps specifically for coronovirus assistance for rental relief, setting up programs to provide no guidance about the allocation of funds to states Was left for. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, $ 3.43 billion in federal aid was spent on aid rental. Advocates said that according to the report released by the National Council of State Housing Agencies, facing as much as $ 34 billion in unpaid rent through January, advocates should have done more.
The states’ rental relief program “was a very mixed success. It was like a rash of programs,” Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Chris Hall said in February. “There was a lot of experimentation – some successful, some not.”
Several states have since made changes that expect Congress to be in a better position to handle its share of more than $ 45 billion in rental assistance coming from Congress in the coming months.
Last year, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kansas were among the states that struggled to distribute rental assistance. Kansas set aside $ 35 million, but cut $ 15 million for other uses, only to realize on Dec. 27 that the money was more time to spend.
Mississippi allocated $ 18 million for rental relief, but paid less than $ 3 million as of December. The state said that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development determined the grant program that was trusted that tenants could not be helped to pay rent, only to be at risk of being homeless. A HUD spokesperson denied that it could be said that the money could be used to support rent.
In New York, difficulties were blamed on lawmakers’ criteria, including showing tenants that they were paying more than 30% of their income on rent. Applicants had to show a loss of income from late April to July, when some saw an increase from extended unemployment and other benefits.
“When you have $ 100 million to help and only spend 40%, then something is wrong. There is no question that a lot of people are needed, ”said Justin La Mort, a supervisor of mobilization for Justice Inc., a nonprofit legal services provider in New York.
He said that the program was focused on preventing fraud – at the expense of helping people.
Bonnie Ginette, whose massage therapy business dried up during the epidemic, applied for help in July and said she was refused in October because she failed to prove her loss of income. The 66-year-old resident of New York City now pays over $ 26,000 in rent in his one-bedroom apartment and is afraid of eviction.
“It’s a well-meaning program and probably should and should be fixed, but it’s hard to say how much load their system has experienced and can still experience,” Ginette said. “The types of relief that could help me were there. But then you run into a brick wall. “
Lenard Katz, his landlord and a partner at Sussex Realty, said he did not understand how Ginnett could not be helped.
“We believe this is a crisis that the state of NY has been unable or unwilling to receive money to tenants and landlords who are in dire need of assistance during the Kovid crisis,” he said by email.
A spokesman for New York State Homes and Community Renewal, Charni Sochet, said the Affordable Housing Agency worked for months to ensure families with rent burdens get the help they were eligible for “and” rent relief programs ” “Financing quickly renters” is most needed according to the specific requirements established by the Legislature. “
Pennsylvania had similar problems, spending $ 54 million on rental assistance and $ 10 million on mortgage assistance, with approximately $ 175 million devoted to the program. Just a third of applicants received help.
Facing the November 30 deadline for the Republican-controlled Legislature to spend the money, the State Housing Finance Authority returned it. Some of it went to the Department of Corrections.
“There were a lot of obstacles for people to come to the program really effectively and easily, get help and stay in their homes,” said Bryce Mertzki, director of the Housing Authority of Strategic Planning and Policy.
Perhaps the biggest problem was the $ 750 monthly cap. Below average rent in Pennsylvania, it is inadequate in large cities with high housing prices.
Applicants had to be 30 days behind on the rent, meaning that Martzki stated that a person could fall behind to qualify, only to “run the risk of losing their home and not be eligible for the program again” . “
Rachel Garland said, “There were many tenants who didn’t think the money would come on time, so they moved with a family or doubled or found less suitable housing, because they didn’t think they could earn the next month’s rent.” Huh.” , An attorney at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.
In Louisiana, $ 24 million in aid for renters facing epidemiological financial problems was announced on July 16, with nearly half of that coming from federal money.
Keith Cunningham of the Louisiana Housing Corporation said that just $ 2.3 million has been disbursed to the 956 applicants who undertook the effort. The program was so affected with the inquiry, the online system shut down within days. And there was a long application.
“Do you think that the person reaching you has a fax machine or solid Internet or a printer in their home to handle a 50-page application?” Said Andrincia Morris of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance.
Cunningham said the size of the program was tough, made more challenging by a busy tropical storm season.
“Nobody in the state has done anything within that scope,” he said, “There was no infrastructure, no system. We really had to build it from scratch.”
Yeko Scott, who lost her housekeeping job during the epidemic and owes $ 6,000 in rent on her family’s two-bedroom apartment in New Orleans, said she repeatedly tried to get help.
“I said,” she agitated. “Nothing is being done. Everyone is asking about rent. I can not find anything. It’s really, really thick right now. “
Some states have made changes with new federal aid.
In Louisiana, roughly 7,000 applicants previously considered would receive a $ 161 million priority, Cunningham said.
Pennsylvania reinterpreted the law and fixed its $ 750 rental cap, stating that a separate agency would handle the new funding.
New York expanded the program’s eligibility and would reconsider applicants who were initially denied.
Casey reported from Boston. Associated Press writer Mark Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Marina Villanueve in Albany, New York; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; And Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.
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