Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer fumed Sunday over New York state’s slow release of a “trickle” of COVID-19 relief funds helping tenants and small landlords get back on their feet.
At a Manhattan rally on July 25, he called upon the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Schumer demanded that federal money be released to cash-strapped lease holders immediately.
“Thousands and thousands of New York tenants could be deprived of critical rent relief checks if the state doesn’t move more quickly on getting this money out,” Schumer said, adding that the state has until September to use all of its federal COVID-19 funding designated for this purpose, or risk losing whatever isn’t exhausted.
“Today, I am formally asking ODTA to move heaven and earth to fix the mess, pick up the pace and get this federal money out the door before it’s too late for tenants and landlords. The message today is: tenant relief now. No more delay,” the Senate majority leader said.
With the end to the rent moratorium looming just over the horizon on Aug. 31, Schumer feels that the more than $2.1 billion he helped obtain for New York state back in January is in danger of being lost if prompt action is not taken.
The Senator also pointed out that this money is not solely for the tenants, but also for small, independent landlords who have been unable to receive income from those living under their roofs, as can the individuals in need of assistance outside of the city like those in Long Island and upstate New York.
“Many, many tenants could not pay the rent during COVID. They either lost their jobs, got cut in pay or had new responsibilities, but fortunately there was a moratorium on that rent, but that is going to expire in a month and then all of the back rent that they owe would be due,” Schumer said.
Several other elected officials joined Schumer at Sunday’s rally, such as Assembly member Richard Gottfried and state Senator Brian Kavanagh. Both echoed his sentiments, along with leading tenant rights organizations.
According to Schumer, as of last week, New York State is the only one of the 50 states that has not sent any money out to the tenants. Currently, they have distributed small amounts, but Schumer, other elected officials and advocates believe that the only way to get ahead of the deadlines is to disperse a “waterfall” of funds to those in need.
According to the Urban Institute, the average amount of back rent in a household is estimated at $6,000. Additionally, half the tenants in America missed at least rent or one more mortgage payment during 2020. Schumer believes this amount is even higher since New York City’s rent is exponentially more expensive.
While Schumer would like to see the moratorium extended, since that has yet to happen, he believes the only way to stop an avalanche of evictions leading to unprecedented numbers of debt and potentially homelessness is for the state to release the $2.1 billion in funds sanctioned for small landlords and tenants.
“How it works with federal funds is that if you don’t use them, you could potentially lose them, and that would be very bad,” Schumer added. “New York already sends enough money to the feds. These dollars are meant for New Yorkers. That’s why I fought so hard for them, and our tenants, in the first place.”