OTDA Officials Discuss ERAP's Delayed Rollout, Current Progress

On Aug. 10, the state Senate held a hearing with officials from the Office of Temporary and Disability Insurance (OTDA) on the rollout of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

On Aug. 10, the state Senate held a hearing with officials from the Office of Temporary and Disability Insurance (OTDA) on the rollout of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). “Since [the program’s] enactment, we’ve heard persistent concerns from tenants and landlords and many advocates around the state that the program’s implementation has been far too slow, and that the money has not gone out at the speed that the urgency of the crisis requires,” said Senator Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, who chairs the Senate Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development.

Current Progress

The OTDA is entrusted with distributing $2.7 billion in rental assistance. Much of that money won’t reach landlords before the state’s eviction moratorium expires on Aug. 31. “There is no chance,” said Michael Hein, commissioner of OTDA.

According to Commissioner Hein at the hearing, the agency has handed out more than $156 million in funding to landlords on behalf of 12,000 eligible households, he said. Also, the state obligated $680 million for 41,000 tenants, who will receive a notice in the following week saying their applications are provisionally approved and that they’re protected from eviction for up to one year, Hein said.

This level of distribution puts the state above a threshold required to avoid a potential clawback of federal funding, Hein noted. The federal government requires that states distribute at least 65 percent of rental assistance funding by Sept. 30.

Reasons for Delay

According to the commissioner, ERAP's launch in New York was delayed because it had to be approved as part of the state budget, which happened less than two months before the application process opened to New Yorkers. This was in contrast to other states, some of which began distributing their federal funding in February or March. “OTDA was playing catch-up from Day 1,” Hein said.

The agency had 100,000 applications in the first month of the program’s availability, he said. And that number reached 160,000 in July, when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a streamlined application process and vowed that the backlog would be erased by Aug. 31.

Program Improvements

Hein announced two technical upgrades to the online application: a save-and-resume function, which allows an applicant to pause and restart the application as needed; and an enhanced status feature that allows applicants to see where they are in the process. 

Hein stated that a significant hurdle in the funding rollout is the effort to get both tenants and landlords to participate in the application, “something that has proven cumbersome across the nation,” he said. He said tenant applications for over $460 million in aid had been approved but were awaiting landlord participation. As such, the application process’ document requirements have been reduced, and 350 additional state employees are helping OTDA process the applications still in queue, he said.

A tenant who’s deemed eligible for the program can access the funds even if a landlord chooses not to participate. The state will hold the funds for six months while trying to contact the landlord; state workers will attempt to make contact no less than three times, OTDA officials noted. Meanwhile, the tenant will receive state notification to use in court to protect from eviction for up to a year.