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States are struggling with rent-seeking epidemics

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last July that New York would spend $ 100 million on federal coronavirus assistance to help tenants with cash pay their monthly rent and avoid deportation.

By the end of October, the state had sold just about $ 40 million, bringing the total to 15,000 out of almost 100,000 people seeking help. More than 57,000 applicants were rejected because of criteria set by lawmakers that many find difficult to meet.

The experience of New York was demonstrated at the national level. The United States has failed to spend tens of millions of dollars to help tenants avoid evictions. Overcrowding claims, poorly managed projects, and landlords’ refusal to cooperate meant that tens of thousands of tenants never received assistance. Some states have shifted their funding from rent assistance, fearing that they will lose their extended end-of-year mandate.

According to Housing Defenders, the problem was that the federal government did not specifically provide any coronavirus assistance for rent, leaving states trying to create programs without guidance on how the money should be distributed. According to the National Coalition for Low-Revenue Housing, $ 3.43 billion in federal assistance was spent on rent assistance. But lawyers said more needed to be done, given that tenants were expected to pay $ 34 billion in unpaid rent by January, according to a report released by the National Council of State Housing Agencies.

U.S. rental assistance programs have had “mixed success.” It was a patchwork of plans, “said Maryland Democrat Sen. Chris van Hollen in February. “There were many attempts. “Some were successful, some were not.”

Several states have since made changes, hoping to better position themselves to manage their share of the more than $ 45 billion in rent assistance from Congress in the coming months.

Last year, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kansas were among the states struggling to distribute rent assistance. Kansas allocated $ 35 million, but withdrew $ 15 million for other purposes, only realizing on December 27 that it had more time to spend.

Mississippi has allocated $ 18 million for rent, but has made less than $ 3 million by December. The United States has said that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided that its grant-based program will not be able to help tenants in rent, only those at risk of homelessness. A HUD spokesman denied the allegations, saying the money could be used for rent assistance.

In New York, difficulties were compounded by lawmakers’ criteria, including the fact that tenants show that they pay more than 30% of their income in rent. Applicants had to show a loss of income from April to the end of July, when some noticed an increase in unemployment and other benefits.

“When you have $ 100 million to help, only 40% is spent, something is not right. “There is no doubt that there are many people in need,” said Il Austin La Mort, a supervising attorney for Mobilization for Justice Inc., a nonprofit legal services firm in New York.

He said the program is too focused on preventing fraud by helping people.

Bonnie Ginnett, whose massage therapy business dried up during the epidemic, asked for help in July and said she was rejected in October because she could not prove a loss of income. The 66-year-old New York City resident now owes more than $ 26,000 for a one-room apartment and is afraid of being evicted.

“It’s a well-intentioned program, it probably should have been corrected, but it’s hard to say how overloaded their system is, which can still be experienced,” innet said. “It simply came to our notice then. But then you hit a brick wall. ”

His landlord and Sussex Realty partner, Leonard Katz, said he did not understand how Ginnet could not get help.

“We believe it is contemptible that New York State has been unable or unwilling to receive money from tenants and landlords who are in dire need of assistance during the Covid Crisis,” he e-mailed.

New York State House Reconstruction Officer Charny Sochett says Affordable Housing Agency has been “working hard for months to ensure that rent-seeking households receive qualified assistance,” that “the rent improvement program is quickly providing funding to tenants.” in accordance with the special requirements set by the legislature for the most needy. ”

Pennsylvania had similar problems, spending $ 54 million on rent and $ 10 million on mortgage assistance, up from $ 175 million under the program. More than a third of applicants received assistance.

Facing the November 30 deadline for the state-controlled legislature to spend the money, the state housing finance body returned the bulk of it. Some of it went to the correction department.

“A lot of roadblocks have been set up so that people can really effectively enter the program easily, get help and stay at home,” said Bryce Maretsky, director of the housing agency’s strategic planning and policy office.

Probably the biggest problem was the $ 750 monthly hat. This is lower than the average rent in Pennsylvania, which makes it unsatisfactory in larger cities with higher housing prices.

Applicants also had to be 30 days behind rent, which, according to Maretsky, meant that someone could be left behind to qualify, only to “risk losing their home and then not meeting the plan.”

“There were a lot of tenants who didn’t think the money would come in time, so they moved to a family or doubled or found a less comfortable apartment because they didn’t think they could pay next month’s rent,” said Rachel Garland. , Philadelphia Community Legal Advocate.

In Louisiana on July 16, $ 24 million was announced to help tenants with financial problems related to the epidemic, about half of which came with federal funding.

Just $ 2.3 million was distributed to 956 applicants, said Keith Cunningham of Louisiana Housing Corporation, the lead agency. So the program was so swampy with polls that the online system shut down in a matter of days. And there was a long application.

“Do you think the person applying to you has a fax machine or a strong enough internet or printer to handle the 50-page application in their home?” said Andreanecia Morris of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance.

Cunningham said the size of the program was disappointing, making the stormy season even more difficult.

“No one in the state has done anything within that framework,” he said. “There was no infrastructure, no delivery system. “We really had to build it from scratch.”

Yaeko Scott, who lost his household job during the epidemic ունի և $ 6,000 rent on his family’s two-room apartment in New Orleans, said he had repeatedly tried to get help.

“I’m heavy,” he said. “Nothing is being done. Everyone calls for rent. I’m not getting anything. “It’s really rude now.”

Some states have made changes with the arrival of new federal aid.

Cunningham said about 7,000 applicants in Louisiana, who were initially considered, would receive a priority of $ 161 million.

Pennsylvania fixed its $ 750 rent limit by reinterpreting the law, saying the new funding would go to another agency.

New York has expanded its eligibility to review applicants who were initially rejected.

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Casey reports from Boston. Associated Press writers Mark Levine in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Marina Villeneuve in Albany, New York; Han on Hannah in Topeka, Kansas; New Orleans-based Kevin McGill contributed to this report.

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