For months, Mayor Eric Adams and the New York City Housing Authority have been pressing the Biden administration to deliver pandemic-related eviction protection funds to help tenants in the city’s public housing system cover more than half a billion dollars in unpaid rent.
For months, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has said no, declining to tap into $5 billion in homelessness and eviction protection funds called HOME-ARP under the American Rescue Plan (ARP) enacted in response to COVID-19.
On Friday five Democratic members of New York City’s congressional delegation — Reps. Adriano Espaillat, Dan Goldman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jerrold Nadler and Ritchie Torres — stepped into the fray, demanding that HUD provide the much-needed money to the financially on-the-brink Housing Authority.
“Despite the urgent and unmistakable need for federal assistance, HUD has been reluctant to grant NYCHA the approval it needs to access HOME-ARP funds for NYC,” the representatives wrote to HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge. “We have trouble understanding the reasons for HUD’s reluctance.”
The letter notes that Adams and his Department of Housing Preservation and Development have “affirmed that tenant-based rental assistance for NYCHA tenants ought to be the highest priority for HOME-ARP funds in NYC. The will of NYC’s local government has fallen on deaf ears.”
In effect, they argued that HUD is in effect discriminating against public housing residents by not providing them with the same assistance they have provided to thousands of private sector renters who the federal government decided were “at risk of homelessness” or “otherwise vulnerable.”
“There is no language in HOME-ARP’s underlying statute that justifies denying public housing tenants the same access to tenant-based rental assistance that has been made available to private housing tenants,” they wrote. “What we are seeking from HUD is not special treatment but equal treatment of public housing residents under the HOME-ARP program which was designed to assist every type of tenant in need.”
On Monday HUD spokesperson Olga Alvarez said the agency has awarded nearly $270 million in HOME-ARP funds to the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, but none to NYCHA.
“HUD has been in contact with NYCHA and is in the process of reviewing NYCHA’s request,” she said. “HUD will follow up with NYCHA when a determination is made.”
The $5 billion program known as HOME-ARP is meant to assist “individuals or households who are homelessness, at risk for homelessness or otherwise vulnerable” by providing tenant-based rental assistance.
NYCHA’s argument is that the tenants who are so far behind in their rent will ultimately face eviction and could soon end up homeless.
Month after month, the amount of back rent owed by New York City public housing tenants who fell behind in their payments during the pandemic and never recovered has increased, hitting $527 million by the end of last month.
More than 60,000 of NYCHA’s 161,400 households now owe money, with average arrears of $7,200. The shortfall has already forced NYCHA to pause some development upgrades and threatened the authority’s ability to make promised deadlines codified in a 2019 agreement with the federal government for cleaning up toxic mold and dangerous lead paint and replacing aging heating systems and elevators.
Earlier this year, NYCHA resumed sending out eviction notices to households that are way behind on rent, a practice the authority had paused during the pandemic. By June 30, more than 1,250 households had received notices and their cases are now pending in Housing Court.
Housing Authority spokesperson Michael Horgan declined to discuss the details of the authority’s conversations with the federal agency that provides about 70% of NYCHA’s funding, stating, “We’re in discussions with our partners at HUD on this and other important issues.”
This is NYCHA’s second campaign to obtain financial help with its back-rent problem — a crisis that stemmed from New York State prioritizing private landlords for aid during the pandemic.
As more and more renters lost jobs and fell behind in their rent, the federal government funded an Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) whose money was to be distributed by state governments.
In New York, Albany’s legislative leaders and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo crafted a distribution system that put NYCHA and other renters receiving public assistance at the back of the line for ERAP money, dictating that they could receive it only after unpaid private sector rent had been fully reimbursed.
An eviction moratorium for both public and private renters was put in place and expired in January 2022. The ERAP funds ran out before NYCHA could receive any, although the authority did win approval for about $120 million from the state last summer that will go toward the total arrears.
That still leaves the authority about $400 million short.
This story was published by THE CITY on September 18, 2023.