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New York State Budget Allocates 2.4 Billion for Covid-19 Rent Relief Program - Arcelia Martin

ARCELIA MARTIN, HOST: The New York state legislature just passed next year’s fiscal budget last night. In that bill, there’s some 2.4 billion allocated for the COVID-19 emergency rental assistance program. This is New York’s second attempt to provide pandemic rental assistance after initiating the program last year.

Today my guest is Katherine Fung, a reporter and producer at WNYC, who has been reporting on New York State’s Rental Relief Program.

Hi, Katherine. Thanks for talking with us.

KATHERINE FUNG: Hi, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what will $2.4 billion do for New York renters?

FUNG: So many people I've talked to have lost their jobs or have their hours cut back during the pandemic this year and they just don't know how they're going to pay rent. I talked to people who owe upwards of 12 months of rent at this point, their bills are $18, $19 thousand dollars and not having had relief for all this time.

So this amount is meant to help renters with the amount that they owe in rent during the pandemic, and also with utilities bills that they owe. And supporters of this bill say that this is going to cover the entirety of the back rent that they owe in New York State. And whether or not that's the case, it estimated that it would come close at least.

MARTIN: You were talking about the program supporters. Are there any people who are opposed to this program?

FUNG: Well, there are critics of the program who say that a lot more outreach has to be done to make sure that communities find out about these applications and know about the program and know how to apply and that it's easy for them to apply. We saw in the previous rent relief program that New York rolled out last year that just because the money is there doesn't mean it will necessarily reach people. The state failed to award more than half of that amount last year. And it was due to, you know, very strict rules about eligibility and the applications being very complicated.

MARTIN: So how will it work this time?

FUNG: So there are eligibility requirements this time, households have to demonstrate that they lost income during the year 2020. They have to meet certain income requirements. And they have to be rent burdened, meaning that they have to pay 30% of their income or more towards their rent. People who are undocumented also qualify for this relief this round, as opposed to the first round, and that people were ineligible the first time because of that federal the way the federal legislation that created this funding was written.

One important difference that's in this legislation is that the bill allows people to sign affidavits as proof of this as their documentation. Whereas in the first round of rent relief, people had to scramble to find all kinds of kinds of documentation to prove their eligibility. But that's been expanded this time around.

MARTIN: How soon would renters expect to see that relief?

FUNG: The governor has said he'll sign the budget. We don't know if that will be today or when that will be. We don't know when the application will be rolled out. There were the people who wrote the legislation, who sponsored the legislation, had originally wanted a timeline, like a strict timeline written in the legislation for there to be an application available within three weeks, but I don't know if that's in the final legislation. I've been going through it and I don't see that provision anywhere in the final text.

MARTIN: And what about landlords? How does this program affect them?

FUNG: This program pays relief directly to landlords, if tenants apply and are approved. This is relief that landlords have been asking for for a long time. And importantly, there's one provision that especially affects landlords, and that is that if landlords accept this money, they can't evict their tenants or raise the rent for a year.

MARTIN: This has been Katherine Fung, reporter and producer at WNYC. Thank you so much for talking to us.

FUNG: Thank you.


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