Chamber of Commerce Will Seek to Institute Rent Relief Program at the County Level

Cortland Area Chamber of Commerce officials are requesting federal funds allocated to the county to create a relief fund for landlords who are owed back rent due to economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bob Haight, the Chamber of Commerce’s president, presented the request for $200,000 from the county’s $9 million allocation of federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act at the County’s Federal Aid Allocation Citizen’s Advisory Committee Monday. The funding would go toward paying small landlords in Cortland County who do not qualify or whose tenant’s debt would not be fully covered through the state’s rent relief programs.

“Of course at the Chamber of Commerce we are always going to be in favor of putting the right dollars into business people’s hands,” Haight said. “Especially small business owners who have been hit especially hard because of COVID-19.”

Haight said that he has been contacted by at least two landlords who have been in specific situations that have not allowed them to receive assistance from the state’s Emergency Rent Assistance Program (ERAP). ERAP, according to the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), will disburse $2.18 billion in funds to cover up to 12 months of owed rent for landlords across the state. 

According to the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), the program has obligated that sum to close to 168,000 applicants, but the landlord group estimates that ERAP will fall short of covering all backlogged payments by about $3 billion. CHIP officials calculate that anywhere from 230,000 to 280,000 qualified tenants have not applied for aid.

Additionally, tenants who owe rent payments are currently protected under the state’s eviction moratorium, which will expire on Jan. 15 next year.

Earlier this month, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced she had requested additional funds from the U.S. Treasury Department to beef up ERAP’s reserves. Additionally, Hochul allocated an extra $125 million to pay small-to-medium-sized landlords who do not qualify for the state’s ERAP because their tenants either declined to complete an application or vacated the residence with owed rent.

“Getting pandemic relief money out the door to New Yorkers has been a top priority for my administration since day one,” Hochul said in a press statement. “I am proud that our state’s rental assistance program has already provided much needed relief to tens of thousands of New Yorkers, but there are still many small landlords ineligible for that relief because of federal rules who also need our help. This funding is a critical tool to close that gap and help more New Yorkers recover from the pandemic.”

Haight said that his idea for the proposed $200,000 rent relief fund at the county level came after he was contacted by a landlord who has a tenant who has not experienced economic hardships because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We have had some landlords who have contacted us because the rent relief programs were not addressing them at all,” he said. They have shared their frustrations.”

Haight also said another landlord told him that the tenants were unresponsive to calls for requesting ERAP funding.

“How widespread this is countywide? I couldn’t tell you,” Haight said. “I only know from the handful I have heard from.”

If landlords applying for the Chamber of Commerce’s program also qualify for the state’s program, the Chamber of Commerce would only pay for the number of months not covered through ERPA. 

The Chamber of Commerce is willing to market the program, accept applications, review applications and disperse funds, according to Haight’s submitted proposal.

Democratic County Legislature Minority Leader Beau Harbin (LD-2) said he would like to see the county’s proposed program “try and fill gaps and make landlords whole.”

 “I do not see anything that requires those who go through (the Chamber of Commerce’s program) to attempt to go through the state program or to be sure they have notified tenants of the programs available at the state and federal levels,” Harbin said. “I do not think the county cannot take on the burden of all of it. The Chamber’s program should be there to try and fill in the gaps and make landlords whole” 

Haight said that he would consider adding those suggestions to the proposal.