Saratoga County

State says Saratoga County has unused emergency rental assistance funding

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Saratoga County is one of only five counties in the state that hasn’t exhausted its federal funding from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program that is helping landlords collect rent owed to them during the eviction moratorium that ends Saturday.

But just how much was left in the fund was hard to pinpoint Friday.

The state would only confirm that there’s a “limited” amount of remaining funding for the county.

Statewide, the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance either paid or fully obligated more than $2 billion of its federal rent relief in November, and it closed the application portal to all but a few localities that had specifically dedicated funding.

The U.S. Treasury provided $10.9 million to Saratoga County. The money is administered by the state OTDA.

Of the $10.9 million for Saratoga County, $3.9 million had already been issued through 487 payments to landlords, with millions more already obligated for Saratoga County landlords.

“We continue to accept applications for residents from Saratoga County, with the expectation that all of the available rent relief for this locality will be distributed in the very near future,” OTDA spokesman Justin Mason said. “Likewise, we continue to work with Saratoga County to ensure the timely payment of approved applications.”

When asked how much is in the fund, Josnelly Cerda of Shelters of Saratoga — the agency that has partnered with the county to help residents apply for the program — Cerda said: “I don’t know. We’re not responsible for the fund. We have not seen a payout since September. We’re still taking applications as a safety net because we understand there are families out there that desperately need it.”

The state stopped taking most requests for pandemic rent relief in November, when an overwhelming number of applicants left the program nearly out of money.

But in December, the Legal Aid Society sued the state, asking that the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s portal to apply for ERAP funding remain open. The basis for the lawsuit was: If the state received additional funding from the federal government or elsewhere, having the portal remain open would allow the agency to help people stay in their homes.

A state judge filed a preliminary injunction forcing the state to reopen the portal, which it did on Tuesday.

Oneida, Dutchess, Nassau and Suffolk counties are the other counties with remaining ERAP money.

The governor in November requested $996 million from the federal government, but New York state was only awarded $27 million. This week, the governor joined other states in requesting that the U.S. Treasury reallocate funds from other states that are not yet distributed.

ERAP applications are processed uniquely and under a timeframe specific to the application, as the circumstances vary from case to case.

When a tenant submits an application and is deemed eligible for assistance, the application is provisionally approved and the amount of that assistance is set aside until the requisite landlord side of the application can be submitted.

Roughly two-thirds of the provisionally approved applications have a corresponding connection to a landlord, though some still require additional information or documentation from the landlord.

ODTA said it believes most of these will ultimately result in an actual payment being made.

The others remain pending because either the landlord has not established an account or the tenant’s account hasn’t yet been matched with the corresponding landlord.

OTDA is also working with community-based organizations to engage landlords in general, including those that haven’t submitted a completed ERAP application.

The program is for low-income families who earn 80% of the area median income, which is $49,950 a year for a family of three in Saratoga County.

Terrance Wansley, communications coordinator for the Capital District Association of Rental Property Owners, which includes landlords in Saratoga County, suggested there were big problems with the ERAP program, including the fact that applications have to be initiated by a tenant who’s in arrears. He said the process was akin to a criminal defendant initiating an allocution in court.

“The third-party has to get the OK from the debtor, as opposed to the debtee,” he said, somewhat incredulously. “So it’s flawed in its conception.”

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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