(The Center Square) – Tenants spoke of the fear of the unknowns ahead, while landlords shared the struggles they are facing to make ends meet.
The dual challenges, shared with lawmakers Aug. 10, shine a spotlight on the circumstances property owners and renters alike are facing in New York City and other municipalities across New York State amid COVID-19.
The New York state Assembly held a 6-hour public hearing on the emergency rental assistance program and the slow drip of funds to applicants in the initial two months of its rollout. During the hearing, lawmakers heard both from officials and from dozens of people on the challenges that have taken place this summer.
Kim Statuto, a renter and leader of a tenant association in the Bronx, said she is frustrated with the delays of the program, which the state Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, or OTDA, is administering.
In her testimony to lawmakers, Statuto said there are pending applications stretching back two months.
“Landlords have done their part, tenants have done their part – still no answer,” Statuto said. “People are living on the edge. We need to fix this, or we’re going to be overrun with homelessness.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, landlords such as New York City property owner Rubin Margules said they are grappling with declining income and increasing costs. Margules oversees about 1,000 units spread across 11 buildings.
“By giving a blanket amnesty to everybody, you’re compounding the problem,” Margules, president of ARM Capital Resources Corp., said to lawmakers. “Your policies are tying our hands. Let us be your partners, not your adversaries.”
Margules, who said he has been a property owner in New York City for decades, also expressed bewilderment in the decision to have OTDA oversee the emergency rental assistance program.
At least for the Big Apple, Margules said other agencies well versed in handling tenant hardships, such as the city’s Human Resources Administration, are better equipped to handle the issue.
“There’s never been mass evictions in New York City, and there never will be. There are programs in place,” Margules said, pointing to the HRA as an example.
Other speakers were from a range of advocacy organizations, many aimed at upholding tenants’ rights.
Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said she has gained deep knowledge of the state's emergency rental assistance program portal in recent months.
“I think you guys designed a good program. It should work for you and your constituents,” Davidson said to the state Assembly. “Part of what I think is challenging is communication.”
In her testimony, Davidson said she has spoken with call center and online chat support staff through the portal and received mixed messages about a range of issues, such as the viability of an appeals process.
Ayelet Pinnolis, a homeless prevention and housing search advocate with HomeStart, said the program has been prone to glitches. The starting point of establishing an account, she said, is challenging.
“We’re really concerned with what things might look like once the eviction moratorium ends,” Pinnolis said.
Soon-to-depart Gov. Andrew Cuomo had extended the state’s eviction moratorium through Aug. 31 through executive action early this year. State lawmakers are in the process of considering its extension.