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New York State receives 90,000 application during the first two weeks of COVID-19 rent relief program

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New York, under the COVID-19 rent relief program, has received almost 90,000 applications during the first two weeks, says the agency overseeing the effort.

Started on June 1, the state received applications from tenants who earn no more than 80% of their area’s average income — $94,900 for a family of four on Long Island — and who suffered financially because of the virus. The assistance may cover up to one year of unpaid rent and utility bills, and in some cases, three months of prospective rent. New Yorkers do not need to be citizens to apply.

More than 90,000 completed applications have been submitted

said Anthony Farmer, spokesman for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, in a statement.

We look forward to continuing to work with these groups to ensure this critical assistance is distributed to eligible applicants in a timely manner.

A breakdown detailing the number of Long Islanders who’ve applied was not available.

OTDA says that completed applications will be processed in four to six weeks. Assistance will be provided directly to landlords and utility providers.

The U.S. Treasury Department provided nearly all of the $2.7 billion available across the state through the federal government’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program. OTDA is distributing money on behalf of the state and most local governments. Residents of three towns that opted to distribute their own share of the money — Hempstead, Islip and Oyster Bay — will not have access to the $1.6 billion the state said last month was not earmarked for specific communities.

Although there have been some glitches with the rollout, the biggest priority is now ensuring tenants and landlords are aware of the program, said Vivian Storm, a spokeswoman for Nassau Suffolk Law Services, which represents Long Islanders who cannot afford attorneys.

My big concern right now is really outreach and publicity

Storm said.

It’s a great program that should benefit a lot of people.

Sending staff to nonprofits, houses of worship and community centers to explain the program has been helpful in combating assumptions that may prevent people from applying, according to Pilar Moya-Mancera, head of the nonprofit Housing Help Inc., which is doing outreach work in the Town of Huntington.

Many think that: Oh, I don’t qualify. … I don’t have a signed lease. And they don’t know that they can apply without a signed lease

They need to hear it from a messenger that they trust.

So far, Housing Help has fielded calls from tenants and landlords related to 35 households. Most — 23 — of those households are headed by someone who is out of work, underemployed or a senior citizen, Moya-Mancera said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Thursday that the state will run ads promoting the rent relief and other assistance programs on TV, streaming services and online until the end of July. His office did not immediately respond to questions about the cost of the ad campaign or the number of outlets involved.

The launch of the state program has been anticipated since the federal government began allocating ERAP funds in early 2021. The online application tool initially informed New Yorkers they could save their entries as they went, but didn’t properly function. Users now must complete the form in one sitting, Storm said.

OTDA said the “save and resume” function has been temporarily taken offline and will likely remain unavailable for a few weeks. Those who saved drafts should resubmit a new application, the agency said.

The application also prompts users to provide an email for their landlord. The system will accept a phone number in its place, but this can be confusing for people because it’s not clearly stated, Storm said.

ERAP has been easier to navigate than the state’s last COVID-19 rent relief program. When its predecessor launched last summer, the online application tool crashed from high demand.

To qualify, households must:

* Have income at or below 80% of the area median income ($94,900 for a family of four on Long Island).

* Include a person who received unemployment or otherwise experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19 on or after March 13, 2020

* Owe rent at their current residence for bills due on or after March 13, 2020

* Be at risk of homelessness or housing instability

Documents required to apply:

* Personal ID for all members of the household

* Social Security numbers for any members of the household that have been issued one

* Proof of rent amount (usually a lease, rent receipts, canceled checks or money orders)

* Proof of residency, such as utility bills, school records, bank statements, or driver’s licenses.

* Proof of income ( usually pay stubs, bank account deposit verifications, unemployment benefits letters, W-2 forms or copies of income tax returns.

* A copy of the gas or electric utility bill, if seeking assistance for utility arrears

Application resources:

Apply online at otda.ny.gov

The OTDA call center can be reached at 844-691-7368, or via chat.

Those who are hearing impaired may call 1-833-843-8829.

Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

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