Calls rising for rental eviction assistance calls on rise

Photo by Ivan Samkov

CANTON — The number of clients seeking rental eviction assistance from the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York is on the rise, according to staff attorney P.J. Herne.

He told members of the St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force that there had been a lull in activity, “but things really picked up probably within the last two months.”

“They’ve picked up so much that they’ve exceeded our capacity,” Mr. Herne said.

He said some of the concern was about the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, ERAP. Massena’s Maximizing Independent Living Choices Deputy Director Courtnie D. Toms said the agency is still assisting people who file applications for ERAP. But, the applicant may have to wait to receive funding.

“The last update I had from the state was that due to the most recent New York state budget, they would have funding available to pay applications that were filed through March of 2022. Originally, I believe they stopped in October of 2021. So, the last I heard was that they said pay for applications through March of 2022,” Ms. Toms said during Thursday’s meeting of the St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force.

She said ERAP provides legal protection for renters.

“So, we are still helping individuals apply if they want, but most that contact us are not requesting that assistance. They’re requesting the assistance of our Emergency Solutions COVID grant. That is used for rental arrears up to six months, security deposits and first month’s rent. We’re very busy with that program,” she said.

But, Ms. Toms said, that funding is running low.

“We expect to expense all of our funding probably by the end of July. That program was set to end Sept. 30. So, we’ll be done a little bit sooner, but we do still have our Solutions to End Homeless Program, STEHP,” she said.

Mr. Herne, who said he personally has close to 50 to 60 open foreclosure or eviction cases, said he believes that assumptions about ERAP was impacting the Legal Aid Society.

“I think there was a presumption that ERAP had run out of money. We’re trying to reeducate both landlords and tenants. I think one of the curveballs with ERAP that I’m running into as well is some landlords are refusing the money and just want to get the tenant out,” he said.

That, he said, brings up the question: What happens to that money if the tenant has an approved ERAP application and the landlord declines to take it?

“That’s causing a delay because, technically from a reading of the law, it’s supposed to back go back into that fund, which technically could extend ERAP again, making that money available for someone else. The way the law is written, that takes either six months to a year, depending upon renewal. So, I think we might be in this cycle for a little bit going into at least next year. We’re going to be monitoring that as well,” Mr. Herne said.

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