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New York To Simplify Rental Assistance Application, Send Funds By End Of August, Gov. Cuomo Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Amid growing pressure to help New Yorkers who can't pay their rent, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to streamline the process Monday.

Nearly $3 billion in emergency funding is available, but landlords and tenants say the money is nearly impossible to get, CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported.

Lincoln Eccles, a landlord in Crown Heights, said he lost out on roughly $200,000 in rent since COVID-19 hit in 2020. Nearly half of his 14 renters couldn't pay due to job loss.

Eccles said he used his savings to pay taxes and other bills.

"Everything's depleted," he told Rozner.

Eccles tried to help his tenants fill out applications for New York's Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which can back pay up to 12 months rent and three months of future rent.

But he and staff at the Borough Park Jewish Community Council say it's a long process that requires unnecessary detail.

"It's almost a daily incident that the state computers, whatever computers they use, go down. In most cases when this happens, everything is lost, we have to start the procedure totally from the beginning," said Sender Schwartz, director of the BPJCC Special Benefits Program.

"As some point, the amount of glitches and crashes that the systems have has really made it very difficult and discouraging for people to apply," said Avi Greenstein, BPJCC CEO. "We've seen that when the government wants to set up a system to make it seamless and to make it encouraging for people to apply, they find ways to do it. In this particular program, it's been very difficult."

Gov. Cuomo announced starting July 27, there will be a new process that relaxes documentation standards. More than a thousand dedicated staff will work with the contracted vendor and 350 state staff volunteers from other agencies will help clear pending cases, he said.

Watch Gov. Cuomo's 7/26/2021 Press Conference

The governor said there are nearly 5,000 pending cases and the extra staff will get them reviewed in the coming days.

"We're going to start with funding the poorest tenants and then work our way up, which we think is fair, and the funding will be out by August 31st," Cuomo said.

The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 building owners, said the organization has been crying out to the state for weeks.

"We were advocating that they pretest the software before so whatever glitches occurred we could rectify," said Joseph Strasburg. "And now we see the results that, now we're almost at the end of July and a paltry $117,000 has been sent out to owners."

The governor promised no one will get evicted before August 31 for nonpayment of rent. The Legal Aid Society said it's important he keeps his word because the funds come with parameters from the feds.

"We understand that the Treasury Department is looking very carefully at all the grantees to see how they're using the money. And they are saying that if grantees don't use the money, they will take them. They'll recapture the money and provide it to other grantees," said Attorney Ellen Davidson.

Helpers like the BPJCC say the state needs to invest in outreach so organizations like theirs can get the word out.

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