The New York City Housing Authority said it is focusing instead on a smaller number of cases with high-dollar arrears stretching back more than two years. Currently, there are about 2,300 NYCHA households in this category with arrears totaling an estimated $44 million, the authority said.
"The goal of the new approach is to use litigation to address rent arrears as a last resort," according to Thursday's press release.
NYCHA has discontinued nonpayment cases against households that only accrued arrears during the pandemic, according to the announcement. The authority said it also weeded out duplicate cases and stopped pursuing cases against tenants with pending applications for an adjustment in rent, based on factors like loss of income.
"We will continue to review and discontinue active cases on an individual basis going forward, as appropriate," a NYCHA spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, federal regulations prohibit NYCHA from waiving rent arrears, according to the authority. Therefore, NYCHA is pursuing alternatives, including focusing on New York's federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program, to which it has helped submit nearly 28,000 applications seeking reimbursement for more than $105 million in missed pandemic-era rent.
NYCHA said it is not currently litigating eviction cases against residents who have applied for ERAP funds. Yet public housing residents are part of the lowest priority tier to be considered for reimbursement, raising questions about what will ultimately become of their applications.
Addressing legislators during a state budget hearing Wednesday, Daniel Tietz, acting commissioner of New York's Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, said "essentially none" of the public housing applicants have received ERAP payments so far.
"Given the status of the program where we've got much more demand and many more applicants than we can fund … we have serious concerns about whether we would ever get to the public housing tenants," he added.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul requested an additional $1.6 billion in ERAP money from the federal government this month, saying tens of thousands of applications would otherwise go unfunded.
Asked how NYCHA will proceed if ERAP funding does not materialize, a spokesperson said only that "NYC is pursuing multiple approaches to address COVID-era arrears with its residents," including rent adjustments and payment plans, in addition to ERAP.
Lucy Newman, a Legal Aid Society attorney who represents NYCHA tenants, said her organization is concerned about the ERAP situation and believes New York state should step up to fill the gap.
"There is money in the state budget for pandemic relief that should be paid to NYCHA so they can forgive arrears," she said Thursday.
Cynthia Tibbs is tenant association president at the West Side Urban Renewal Brownstones, a cluster of NYCHA buildings on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
All the ERAP applicants she knows are still in limbo, she said.
"Either there's going to be more funding or they're going to have to guarantee that no tenant is going to be evicted if they get denied for ERAP," Tibbs told Law360 on Thursday.
NYCHA's rent collection totaled $898 million last year, according to the authority, down 15% from 2019.
Looking to the future, NYCHA said it's facing a staggering $40 billion shortfall in capital funding — money that is needed for long-overdue repairs and upgrades.
Karen Blondel is a Brooklyn NYCHA resident and co-founder of the Public Housing Civic Association. She said Thursday that while she is "ecstatic" about thousands of eviction cases being closed, other large issues remain unaddressed.
"It's not just about rent," she said. "It's about the built environment. It's about the toxins. It's about, how do we save and stabilize public housing?"
--Editing by Janice Carter Brown.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Daniel Tietz's title.
For a reprint of this article, please contact email@example.com.