Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver speaks during a COVID-19 briefing in spring 2020. — Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office:
By Joshua Burd
The state has disbursed more than $230 million in federal funds aimed at providing relief to apartment renters and landlords impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, officials said last week.
In a news release, the Department of Community Affairs said the payments under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program has supported nearly 26,000 households. The agency expects that pace to pick up as it also launches its Eviction Prevention Program, which will pay rent arrears and future rent up to a total of 24 months, as well as utility assistance, for lower-income households that are struggling financially due the pandemic.
DCA announced the progress by its Division of Housing and Community Resources while citing data from the U.S. Treasury Department, which found that it was third in the nation in disbursements under the rental assistance program.
“We are proud to be in the top tier of states to get federal emergency rental assistance out, but we know even more needs to be done to help families who have struggled to pay their rent throughout this pandemic,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also serves as the department’s commissioner. “This is why DCA continues to focus on picking up the pace of distributing funds so that as many people as possible can avoid eviction. It is also why we are launching the Eviction Prevention Program, which will help us expand income eligibility to reach even more households in need.”
The announcement comes amid criticism that the state has moved too slowly in disbursing the funds, as landlords have grappled with state and federal bans on evictions. Many tenants have not paid rent in 18 months, leaving apartment owners with their own mounting financial struggles.
A recent law enacted by Gov. Phil Murphy ended the moratorium for higher-income renters on Aug. 31, while creating new protections and allocating additional relief funds. But David Brogan, executive director of the New Jersey Apartment Association, recently said that “the glacial pace in the disbursement of rental assistance is placing added strain on both landlords and tenants,” noting that the state has some $1.1 billion in potential relief funds at its disposal.
That includes $500 million in federal funding under the new law, which DCA is using to launch the Eviction Prevention Program. The new subsidy will use the same application process and procedures as the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, which began in March 2021 and is still accepting applications.
As established by the state law, the Eviction Prevention Program may serve renter households up to 120 percent of the area median income, as opposed to the federal maximum of 80 percent of under ERAP, the department said. Additionally, the Eviction Prevention Program may provide both rent arrears and future rent payments for a period up to two years with recertification every six months.
Landlords may apply for assistance on behalf of a tenant. The landlord must:
- Obtain the signature of the tenant on the application, which may be documented electronically; and
- Provide documentation of the application to the tenant to notify the tenant that the application has been submitted.
DCA noted that the $232 million disbursed follows $91.75 million that it distributed to 15,000 households in the first phase of the ERAP program last year. It added that all states must expend 65 percent of the first tranche of ERAP funds by Sept. 30, 2021.
As part of the programs, DCA said it was encouraging landlords to agree to a reasonable payment plan for any rent arrears and rent not covered by the relief funds and commit to not filing for eviction for nonpayment of rent during the term of the assistance.