Bronx reps united on securing NYCHA funds

Washington Democrats weigh in on rent assistance as part of state budget talks


Eight members of New York’s congressional delegation are turning up the pressure on Gov. Kathy Hochul to include emergency rental assistance for public housing residents in the $232.9 billion state budget, now three weeks overdue.

Without additional state funding, the lawmakers — including Bronx Reps. Ritchie Torres, Adriano Espaillat, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — warn public housing authority residents and Section 8 voucher holders in New York may never get a slice of the state’s pandemic-era federal rent relief. Those who attempted to apply are still waiting at the end of the queue in the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

About $268 million remains in New York’s ERAP coffers, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s spending tracker.

“Public housing residents are still recovering from the pandemic and facing the possibility of eviction,” Torres wrote in a tweet April 10.

“That is why I am partnering with fellow New York congressional members in urging (Gov. Hochul) to include emergency rental funding for NYCHA tenants in this year’s state budget.”

The three Democrats from the Bronx are united on the issue, signing a letter alongside Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Grace Meng, Yvette Clarke, Gregory Meeks, and Dan Goldman last week to Hochul and leaders of the state legislature.

New York is the only state in the nation that decided to give residents in subsidized housing a back seat to private landlords for Covid-related rental assistance, the representatives point out.

“This decision has been devastating for the tens of thousands of public housing tenants who are now facing significant rental arrears, which may be impossible for some to ever pay back,” they wrote. “In some cases, some of these tenants are faced with the painful prospect eviction.”

Some 33,000 public housing residents in New York City have been left in the lurch whose applications for emergency rental assistance never came up for review, even as ERAP paid rental arrears totaling more than $3 billion to keep tenants in their homes across the state.

The state legislature signaled their intent to provide some recourse early in this year’s budget process. The state Senate and Assembly called for at least $385 million in public housing rental assistance in their one-house budget resolutions passed in March, but they’ll need Hochul to come on board in the final round of closed-door negotiations now taking place in Albany.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal launched an eleventh-hour appeal March 28, rallying on the steps of the capitol alongside public housing resident leaders and New York City Housing Authority interim chief executive Lisa Bova-Hiatt just two days before the budget was due.

Bova-Hiatt testified in a city council budget hearing that NYCHA residents have amassed more than $466 million in rental arrears since the start of the pandemic, more than a quarter of which may be eligible for the federally funded emergency rental assistance program.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who once lived in public housing in the Bronx, supports the budget allocation.

The primary responsibility for public housing should fall on the federal level, he told The Riverdale Press.

“But the state does have a role to play. I think we should find money to help NYCHA residents.”

He said he and his colleagues were laser focused on helping tenants in private, market-rate housing early in the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The reasoning was it was such a huge number of people and NYCHA residents are heavily subsidized,” he said.

“But there’s obviously a tremendous need. Many are far behind on their rent and NYCHA is in dire straits.”

Though Bova-Hiatt has said eviction is a last resort for public housing residents, state assistance may be the only other option to stave off a financial cliff in the New York City Housing Authority’s operating budget.

NYCHA collected just 63 percent of its rent roll in February, down 7 percent from the same time last year — a historic low for the largest public housing authority in the country.

Rent accounts for about a third of NYCHA’s operating budget, and is an important source of revenue as the housing authority has experienced a cumulative funding loss of over $1 billion in federal capital grants over the last two decades.

That bridled its ability to make necessary repairs and comply with the terms of a 2019 settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and Housing and Urban Development. A federal monitor oversees NYCHA’s progress in remediating living conditions in its deteriorating stock of buildings.

A bill that would have made public housing residents eligible for emergency rental assistance died on the state Assembly floor after passing the Senate last legislative session.

The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which administers the program, closed its application portal in January as part of a settlement with tenants represented by the Legal Aid Society, signaling funds have largely dried up. Just over half of the 400,000 households that applied have received assistance.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams have pled for New York to receive more federal funds. The U.S. Treasury has yet to disburse about $8.29 billion in remaining emergency rental assistance.

Congress, NYCHA funds, Bronx, New York state budget, Adriano Espaillat, Ritchie Torres, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, ERAP, Emergency Rental Assistance Program