Photo: Peter Gill. Mott Haven resident Juan Cano applied for the rental assistance program soon after it opened in June, but his application is still processing.

Many Bronx residents still waiting for rental aid as state assistance program runs out of money

Mott Haven resident Juan Cano applied to the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program soon after it opened up in June. He was falling behind on rent, and to save money, he stopped dining out or going to the movies with his wife and two children. Nearly five months later, Cano’s application is still pending.

“I’m hoping that in the next few months, I can start paying my rent,” Cano, 42, said.

But on Oct. 18, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which operates the rental aid program, announced that it had nearly exhausted funds for the program. The remaining money has been earmarked for only eight counties — none of which are in New York City — and for households making 80% to 120% of their area’s median income.

Gov. Kathy Hochul wrote to Janet Yellen, the treasury secretary, requesting more federal funds for the rental assistance program, the Wall Street Journal reported. Last month, the governor also signed a law extending the state’s eviction moratorium to Jan. 15, 2022.

If more money doesn’t come through soon, tenants like Juan Cano could be left struggling.

“We’re going to be staring down the barrel of an eviction crisis if we don’t have conversations about how we put more money into these programs,” said Amanda Septimo, a state Assembly member who represents the South Bronx.

“We need to put more money into the fund to meet every single application that comes in that qualifies and [is] eligible for the funding,” she said.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program provides up to 12 months of rent for tenants who fell behind during the coronavirus pandemic. The state received about $2.6 billion in federal funding, and as of Oct. 19, $1.8 billion of that money had already been promised and paid out, according to the program’s website.

The program faced hurdles soon after it was established. At first, people who lived with roommates or who were not named on leases faced significant challenges in applying, according to Kyla Ratliff, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx.

After Hochul took office in August, the state eased some requirements and the pace of applications picked up.

Earlier this month, Hochul also announced $125 million in state funding to assist landlords who have not been able to participate in the program, either because their tenants have not enrolled or they have left the apartment without paying rent.

The state government has contracted with community-based organizations across the state to help get the word out. In the South Bronx, that includes BronxWorks and the Neighborhood Association for Inter-Cultural Affairs. Legal Aid is not an official enrollment partner, but has also been helping out.

The aid program has received more applications from the Bronx than from any borough in the city, with nearly 60,000 submitted through Oct. 26. Across the state, there have been over 250,000 applications for assistance on overdue rent.

The Bronx has also had more eviction filings over the past year than any other borough in the city, with 18,650 evictions filed, according to data from Eviction Lab, a national database of evictions. Most filings remain pending so long as the moratorium is in place.

Ratliff said needy Bronx residents should still put in applications despite the depleting funds. Doing so will allow them to put a pause on any eviction proceedings, and will make them eligible for any new funding, Ratliff said.

“Our position is that it would be better to distribute any remaining funds to the poorest families,” said Ratliff. “We are worried that our clients, who desperately need ERAP relief to stay in their homes, may not be the ones who end up getting it. This would have dire consequences for the Bronx community.”

Roy Cano, 30, Juan Cano’s nephew and neighbor, said he applied for rental assistance and is still waiting for the money. Not getting aid could complicate his mother’s retirement plans, since she is named on the lease.

“As for me, I’ll find a way. If it means I can’t live there, so be it,” Roy Cano said.

Readers who need help applying for rental assistance can contact the program at 844-691-7368.

They can also reach out to the Legal Aid Society at 718-991-4600, BronxWorks at 844-380-9169, or the Neighborhood Association for Inter-Cultural Affairs at 718-866-0038.

Informational videos from Legal Aid are available in English and Spanish here.

https://www.motthavenherald.com/2017/02/20/0426/ https://motthavenherald.com/2017/10/23/20210408/