Suffolk officials on Thursday announced the transfer of up to $2 million in Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds to the cities of Babylon and Brookhaven.
The county received $14.5 million in such funds, known as ERAP funding, to help tenants struggling to pay their apartment rents due to the COVID-19 pandemic, paying a total of $10 million Dollars in support to 500 tenants in Smithtown and the five easternmost cities.
But the county doesn’t have enough qualified applicants for the rest of the money, a Suffolk spokeswoman said.
In contrast, the cities of Babylon and Brookhaven have exhausted their funds but still have requests from residents seeking help, officials there said.
Federal rent subsidy funds are distributed across the country. Lower-income renters may qualify under the program for help paying up to a year of past-due rent and up to three months of future rent.
“We know the pandemic has really highlighted and exacerbated many of the challenges and struggles faced by people in the region. At the top of that list is housing,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference in Central Islip. “These additional funds … will help provide a lifeline for renters.”
The state’s rental subsidy application portal will close shortly, and no new applications – which can be submitted on the state Office for Temporary Assistance and Disability Assistance’s website – will be accepted after 9 p.m. Friday.
Deputy District Manager Vanessa Baird-Streeter said there are “over 100 applications in the pipeline” that could receive the funding. She said many are in limbo because landlords have to agree to accept the money and some have yet to opt out.
Sondra Cochran, executive director of Wyandanch Community Development Corporation, said her office had to install an extra phone line to handle the volume of calls they’re receiving for rental assistance and still gets multiple calls a day.
As of Jan. 6, Babylon had allocated $15.5 million in ERAP funds across 920 payments and Brookhaven allocated $44.2 million across 2,585 payments, the state said.
Babylon has 794 rental subsidy applications pending, but the numbers for Brookhaven weren’t immediately available Thursday.
“We will certainly put this money to good use to help our residents in need,” Rich Schaffer, Babylon Town’s supervisor, said in an email.
Brookhaven City Superintendent Ed Romaine said in a statement that many residents are still experiencing “residual economic hardship” from the pandemic.
“We have helped many people in need,” he says. “Now we have the opportunity to help even more people.”
Denise Bonilla has worked at Newsday since 2003 and oversees the city of Babylon, including the villages of Lindenhurst and Amityville.