For tens of thousands of New Yorkers, the pandemic-driven, federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program was the only thing keeping them on rent and in their homes. NYCHA residents were locked out, and now the money is gone, with the House led by Kevin McCarthy reluctant to open the checkbook again.
That puts the onus on Albany to find a solution, particularly since this is a disaster of its own making. No other state categorically kept public housing authorities out of the spigot of federal money available specifically to help tenants pay rent.
In fact, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development confirmed in a letter to NYCHA that New York’s public housing authorities saw the ratio of unpaid rent to total tenant income skyrocketing disproportionately to housing authorities. in other places. Inarguably, New York is in a unique position, with NYCHA alone operating as many apartments as several of the next largest authorities combined; Officials reasoned that the limited ERAP money should go to non-government owners rather than a public entity that, at the very least, would not collapse or shut off heat and water.
That’s a pretty strong reason, but it doesn’t change the fact that NYCHA still needs the operating income from the rentals, and was excluded from the program designed to provide that income. Lawmakers who regularly criticize the condition of NYCHA developments should have to answer the question of where, exactly, the money is coming from, and it certainly isn’t coming from cash-strapped tenants for whom a few thousand dollars in arrears can also be a million.
Initiatives like the Homes Under Construction Preservation Trust will bring in much-needed funding, but it will be primarily for capital improvements and large-scale repairs. NYCHA itself can certainly find efficiencies in operations, and should use enforcement mechanisms to collect rent from those who can actually pay or owed rent long before the pandemic, but that’s not going to fill the gap here. Albany, we’re all ears.