By Joshua Burd
The state has extended and expanded an emergency grant program for New Jersey apartment landlords, drawing praise from the multifamily sector despite the need for additional relief.
In a news release Monday, the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency said it would take new applications for its Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program, which reimburses apartment owners for revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19. The application period has reopened and will run until Tuesday, Oct. 13, providing grants to help landlords cover and forgive missed rent between April and July 2020.
The HMFA also announced that it was accepting applications from owners of buildings with three to 30 apartments, up from a previous cap of 10 units.
“Whether they are tenants or landlords, many of New Jersey’s families are hurting in the ongoing economic crisis caused by the pandemic. No one should be struggling to keep a roof over their head during this crisis,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “The Small Landlord Emergency Grant Program is critical to ensuring the recovery of these families as we rebuild New Jersey’s economy together. (Gov. Phil Murphy) and I encourage every eligible landlord to apply for this COVID-19 relief program.”
The New Jersey Apartment Association applauded the move as a positive step in what is still an uphill economic climb for landlords.
“From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, NJAA has been advocating for rental assistance programs at both the state and federal levels of government,” said David Brogan, the association’s executive director. “Landlords of all sizes are feeling the impact of this virus, and small landlords, which make up half of the rental housing stock, are most at risk. These property owners have invested their life savings into their properties, yet due to no fault of their own, some are looking at foreclosure while others are looking at bankruptcy.
“In short, they need help now. It is my hope that the expansion of this program will provide that help.”
HMFA is using federal COVID relief funds for the program, which is geared toward apartments with low- to moderate-income rent levels. It comes amid state and federal moratoriums on evictions, but that has only masked the economic hardship faced by both renters and landlords that have lost revenue.
Charles A. Richman, the HMFA’s executive director, said New Jersey landlords have filed 30,000 eviction cases since April.
“Although Gov. Murphy has enacted an eviction moratorium to protect residents from being locked out of their homes for nonpayment of rent, this alarming number demonstrates that many New Jerseyans are struggling to pay rent,” Richman said. “Our goal with the SLEG Program is to mitigate hardship for as many landlords and tenants as possible in the current economic crisis. To this end, we have made some small but significant adjustments to the program to increase both eligibility and accessibility. Not only will we reach more renters in need, but we have also removed some of the barriers for landlords to apply.”
Still, the NJAA said the program falls well short of what apartment owners need to help pay their own operating expenses. The group said its members have worked with affected tenants by creating alternate payment plans and waiving late fees during the crisis, but need additional help to maintain an industry that not only provides shelter but serves as an economic driver for the state.
“The use of federal and state funds to support tenants and landlords facing financial challenges is imperative toward keeping tenants in their homes and the multifamily ecosystem intact,” Brogan said. “We applaud the HMFA for taking this important step.
“Ultimately, however, more funding is needed and NJAA urges Congress to enact meaningful rental assistance now. Any further delay by Congress will put the multifamily industry in peril.”
All completed eligible applications for the grant program will be randomly sorted by computer to give each applicant an equal chance of being funded, HMFA said. Grant funding will be allocated on a case-by-case basis, based on the number of COVID-impacted units and the amount of missed rent.
To be eligible for the second round of the program:
- Applicants must own a residential property in New Jersey with three to 30 rental units;
- Applicants must be registered with the DCA’s Bureau of Housing Inspection;
- The property must not be a seasonal or vacation rental property;
- The property must have at least one non-vacant rental unit impacted by COVID-19 between April and July 2020;
- The property must have low- to moderate-income rent levels.