May 17, 2023
While the total won’t be clear until remaining applications for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) are processed, a majority of the $391 in aid will likely go to the housing authority and other public housing tenants, with $35 million specifically earmarked for NYCHA. Still, thousands of New Yorkers living in public or subsidized housing did not apply for ERAP but continue to struggle with mounting debt.
In her long-awaited state budget deal, Gov. Kathy Hochul set aside $391 million for residents across New York who applied for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), including public housing tenants, before it closed to applicants in January*—though exactly how much of that will go to help relieve mounting rent debt at NYCHA is still unclear. Public housing and Section 8 residents were prioritized last and have yet to receive any aid under ERAP, which was launched to help tenants who fell behind on rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That exclusion prompted lawmakers to propose $389 million be included in this year’s budget—the amount of rent arrears from applicants who were left by the wayside. Still, thousands of New Yorkers living in public or subsidized housing did not apply for ERAP but continue to struggle with mounting debt. The final budget includes $35 million to alleviate COVID-related back rent at NYCHA specifically. How much of the remaining $356 million will go to NYCHA will not be determined until the rest of the ERAP applications, including those submitted by residents in private market apartments, Section 8 and public housing tenants elsewhere in the state, are processed. A “significant majority” is expected to go to NYCHA and other subsidized housing tenants in the city, according to Hochul’s office. NYCHA households have filed more than 33,000 ERAP applications, amounting to $128 million.
Residents and tenant leaders say it still falls short of actual need. Close to $590 million is needed to clear public housing rent arrears statewide, and $501 million for NYCHA alone.
“I’m glad she put out something considering public housing was left out of the original [budget],” said Barbara Williams, a NYCHA resident living in Manhattan. “The COVID virus didn’t skip over people in public housing.”
Williams, a member of Community Voices Heard, an organization that promotes statewide justice, said when ERAP first rolled out, she had doubts that her neighbors would get any debt relief.
“I advised anyone thinking about it that if they can pay their rent please just pay it,” Williams said. “If they didn’t, they would have to pay a hefty rent arrear to catch up on, and there may not be any assistance for us.”
In her experience, the ERAP fight is illustrative of a larger pattern of NYCHA residents being placed “constantly at the back of the line” for resources. “We are New Yorkers too, we pay rent too, there is no reason we should’ve been left out that original [budget] plan,” she said.
Executive Director of Community Voices Heard, Juanita Lewis, said more funding needs to be secured for rental debt relief to avoid a wave of evictions.
“We appreciate the Legislature for securing $391 million in rental debt relief for public housing and subsidized housing residents who were previously excluded from ERAP funds,” Lewis said. “But even this investment doesn’t meet the full need.”
Rent revenue is critical for public housing developments to keep up with maintenance. NYCHA, which needs an estimated $40 billion in overdue repairs, uses rent payments to fund one-third of its operating expenses.
HUD requires public housing authorities across the country to collect 100 percent of rent. During a recent City Council hearing, NYCHA officials shared that the housing authority is only collecting 64 percent of rent over the course of 12 months.
At the beginning of COVID, NYCHA implemented an eviction moratorium but in January 2022, the halt was lifted. NYCHA has said it would only pursue eviction cases for “extremely high” debt.
Since the eviction moratorium was lifted, 500 cases were pursued with six resulting in evictions, according to NYCHA Interim CEO Lisa Bova-Hiatt. Tenants who applied for ERAP are shielded from eviction proceedings as they await their status for payment.
Bova-Hiatt said the housing authority is grateful to Gov. Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams and other state and city leaders for securing funding for the “important” rent relief.
“Most of all, this is a victory for public housing residents who made their voices heard in Albany and at home in New York City,” Bova-Hiatt said.
But Williams said she wants more for herself and her fellow NYCHA residents and will continue to fight for additional arrears funding. Statewide as of early May, ERAP had distributed more than $2.96 billion in aid to landlords of tenants in private housing.
“This fight is not just for me, it’s for us,” Williams said. “We deserve what everybody else has.”