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State extends eviction ban 4 months

ALBANY — Tenants, landlords and property owners months behind on rent or property taxes can start applying for billions of dollars of available relief at the end of the month, officials said, as the state Legislature voted Monday to extend the state’s eviction moratorium four more months.

Until Monday, state executives did not release a time frame or other details as New York waits to distribute its total $2.4 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance Program COVID-19 rent relief for tenants, homeowners, small landlords and business owners. The state budgeted $100 million toward the fund.

North Country Assemblyman Billy Jones of Chateaugay Lake broke ranks with most of his fellow Democrats by voting against the extension “To date, we have yet to provide direct support to the small landlords who are still without the rent income they need to pay their own bills,” Jones said in a statement. “It is not the fault of the small landlords that their tenants are unable to pay their rent but have henceforth shouldered the burden. The state has received federal funding, and it is well past the time that we assist the small landlords who have continued to provide housing for their tenants, despite not receiving any assistance to do so.”

North Country Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, also voted no.

“Early in the pandemic, when so many people lost their jobs and there was tremendous uncertainty, this law made sense,” Stec said in a statement. “But we’ve reached the point when we should be focusing on getting back on track. Some landlords haven’t been paid rent in well over a year, and another moratorium is going to make matters worse.”

Between 800,000 and 1.2 million households are behind in paying rent of the state’s 4.1 million tenant households, lawmakers have said, citing statistics from state housing agencies.

The state is expected to open the application process for relief for tenants, small landlords, homeowners and business owners by the end of May, state Budget Director Robert Mujica said Monday.

Officials in several state departments would not say last month after the budget passed late April 7 when the program would open to applicants.

“We expect to have the applications ready by the end of this month, by the end of May,” Mujica said. “Those will then go out, and then there’s an accelerated process, the 30-day process and a 60-day process for renters and landlords to participate.”

Officials continue to remain tight-lipped about qualifications for tenants or landlords to be eligible for the funding or how much of the $2.4 billion relief has been moved or spent to date.

S06362A/A07175 extended the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 and the COVID-19 Emergency Protect Our Small Businesses Act of 2021 until Aug. 31.

Before the Senate voted 42-21 to extend the moratorium, Mujica and Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke in favor of the extension.

“The moratorium extending through August gives a couple of months after the application … at the end of (May) the applications come out, which is at the end of the month,” Mujica said.

The measure, which was delivered to the governor, passed with a vote of 91-57 in the Assembly. The vote was mainly along party lines in both chambers, with a handful of Democrats, such as Jones, voting against the extension.

A state resident must prove they endured financial hardship, or had to leave their homes because of a health condition and COVID-19 threat that led to housing instability and prevented them from meeting housing or homeowner expenses.

Lawmakers continue to be frustrated with state executives’ delay in opening the application process and starting to spend the federal allocation.

Sen. Michael Martucci, R-New Hampton, pressed bill sponsor Sen. Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, why the Legislature failed to pass legislation sooner to get the federal monies moving. The state knew about $1.3 billion in federal assistance in December.

The federal deadline to allocate at least half of the assistance was extended an additional six months to March 2022.

The state may apply for leftover assistance unspent by other states in case of needing additional assistance, Kavanagh said, adding he was hopeful his colleagues would help secure it.

Critics reiterated focusing on the state working to spend its share by the deadline first.

Other states, such as Texas, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, have announced the procedure for tenants, landlords and business owners to apply for the relief and get the funding moving.

Applications will be handled by the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

“These are massive, complicated programs,” Cuomo said Monday. “Both the tenant relief and the small business relief, you have to write regulations, you have to make sure there’s no fraud, you have to send out the application, and you have to fill it out.

“You want to make sure that no harm is done,” the governor added of state officials working to catch falsified applications.

Lawmakers debated into early Monday evening to extend blocking residential and commercial eviction proceedings to assist people facing hardship due to the pandemic and expand the small businesses eligible for hardship declarations.

“While we can see the light at the end of the tunnel of the global health crisis of the last year, the economic impacts on our families and small businesses have not diminished,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx. “Extending these moratoriums will give people the time they need to recover financially, keep families in their homes, and keep businesses doors open.”

The state anticipates up to an estimated $2.2 billion gap in back rent and similar expenses.

The legislation requires tenants, homeowners and small landlords owning 10 rental properties or fewer to submit a legal declaration of financial hardship. The declaration will halt eviction proceedings that started within 30 days of the effective date of the legislation. Cuomo’s executive order halting evictions first went into effect in spring 2020 and expired last September.

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