Jacky Wong is frustrated. He’s a translator helping Cantonese and Mandarin speakers in Chinatown apply for the state’s COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program or E-RAP. The online portal opened on June 1, and the six people he helped apply haven’t received a dime yet.
“A lot of landlords are really worried because they might be forced to evict their tenants if they don’t receive the E-RAP money. And also, the tenants are very scared because if they don’t get that money they might be kicked out,” Wong said.
“There’s a lot of people who need help,” said Coreena Popowitch, a Concourse resident.
Popowitch is one of them. She lost her job at a call center at the beginning of the pandemic. Now, she’s a year behind on rent. Popowitch said she filed her application the first week of June, with her landlord. Six weeks later, she’s still waiting.
“It still says pending on my application,” said Popwitch.
The state learned in December it would be distributing federal money to help tenants pay pandemic-related debts to their landlords. In February, hundreds of millions of dollars started flowing to the state.
In April, state lawmakers and the governor figured out how the program would work and on June 1 the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, or OTDA, started accepting applications.
“There have been technological challenges with the online portal. People have had difficulty, having the application freeze, being unable to finish it,” said Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society.
According to the OTDA, more than 91,000 applications for what is now $2.4 billion have been filed in the city of the more than 119,000 in the state.
State Senator Brian Kavanagh chair’s the senate’s Housing Committee.
“Obviously, there have been some glitches in the implementation. We are actively pushing the state agency that is running the program OTDA to address those, but at the same time large numbers of applications are getting in and we expect that the state will be cutting checks soon,” said Kavanagh.
A spokesperson for OTDA said the agency is addressing the technical issues and it’s reviewing the more than 100,000 applicants received so far. The first payments are expected to go out in the coming weeks.
"Speed up the process! That's taking too long,” said Wong.
Wong said, with the state’s eviction moratorium set to expire on August 31, the clock is ticking.