Kathy Hochul and three other governors from across the country sent a letter to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking for more federal rental aid dollars, as current coffers of pandemic-era aid are set to dry up and New York’s eviction moratorium expires this Saturday.
The joint Jan. 13 missive includes the chief executives Phil Murphy of New Jersey, Gavin Newsom of California, and JB Pritzker of Illinois, each of whom represent states with large numbers of low-income renters.
“It is crucial that we not give struggling tenants and landlords false hope for long-awaited financial relief when—without federal intervention — there is no funding to support them,” Hochul said in a press release.
Hochul chose not to extend the state’s COVID-era eviction moratorium as it is set to expire this Saturday, Jan. 15, leaving hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in danger of losing their homes in the middle of winter and amid the ongoing outbreak of the Omicron variant.
Following a judge’s order last week, the state reopened online applications for its for Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) late Tuesday, which provides money for unpaid rent and utility bills during the pandemic and includes some eviction safeguards.
Tenants who apply for ERAP can’t be evicted because of an expired lease or failing to pay rent during the pandemic.
The state has received $2 billion in rental assistance funding, covering about 161,000 applications. More than $1.3 billion has gone out across more than 104,000 payments to landlords since the beginning of the pandemic.
However, ERAP relies on federal funding which currently falls short of the need in New York where some 85,000 applications remain unfunded, according to the governor.
The state is slated to get $27 million of new funding from the feds, less than 3% of the $996 million officials hoped to receive, which will only cover about 1,960 more applications.
Advocates and lawmakers have pushed Hochul and the state Legislature to pass a bill known as Good Cause Eviction that would give tenants the right to lease renewal in most cases and cap rent increases at the rate of inflation, but landlord groups have been staunchly opposed to the measure.
Hochul said she will discuss the path forward with the legislature as the almost two-year-old eviction moratorium expires this weekend.
The measure originally began at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, under then-Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the former leader and Hochul have repeatedly extended the protections as the health crisis continued.
The four states in Thursday’s letter account for more than a quarter of the country’s population, but more than 30% of low-income renter households, i.e. where tenants pay more than half their income in rent.
The governors wrote that the Treasury’s Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) should dole out funding based on states’ amount of needy renters, not their general population.
“The current funding gap our states and local governments face is in large part a result of the ERA program allocating funding based on a grantee’s total population instead of grantees share of low-income renters, the target population of the program,” the letter reads.
The heads of state also want the agency to get more redistributed unspent ERA funding from across the country.
A Treasury spokesperson said the Department will send out multiple reallocations over the coming months, starting in early February, but also encouraged governments use other state and local COVID aid.
“Treasury continues to work with grantees to identify how they can meet needs in their communities – including through use of other sources of funds like the $350 billion State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds – given the limited amount available through reallocation,” said Dayanara Ramirez in a statement.
The governors’ letter claimed that shifting those other funds toward rental assistance won’t cut it.
“We do not believe redirecting committed funds intended to shore up other state services following the pandemic induced economic crisis is a viable solution,” reads the letter.