Struggling N.J. tenants could get up to 12 months of rent relief from new program, Murphy says

Posted May 29, 2020

Some New Jersey renters who are financially struggling due to the coronavirus crisis could soon receive emergency rental assistance from a new $100 million fund, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday.

“From the moment this emergency took hold, we have made it clear that no family should fear losing their home as a result of financial hardship due to COVID-19,” Murphy said during his daily briefing in Trenton.

The state Department of Community Affairs has created the COVID-19 short-term rental assistance program to help to low- and moderate-income households facing financial hardship, focusing on those who became unemployed due to the pandemic, according to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who also heads the department.

A portion of the $100 million fund will be allocated for residents who are “very low-income," homeless, or at risk of homelessness and cover up to 12 months of rent.

These residents will be prioritized before an online lottery system opens up in July for residents seeking up to six months of rental assistance, Oliver added. The lottery will give a preference to households earning less than 80% of the median income in their area.

“We have heard the call for help from renters loud and clear, and we understand the enormity of the problem," she said at Friday’s briefing.

Rent-assistance checks are expected to reach landlords later this summer, Murphy said.

Landlords and tenants groups both lauded the move, as residents fall further behind on rent during the economic crisis.

“From the start of this crisis, our association and membership have been advocating for a rental assistance program for those in need," said David Brogan, executive director of the New Jersey Apartment Association. "The use of federal and state funds to support tenants facing financial challenges is imperative to keeping tenants in their homes and the multifamily industry intact.”

Staci Berger, president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, called it a “terrific step in the right direction to help folks who are struggling to make their rent payments.”

Residents can also apply for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program for help with utility costs. The program recently received $29 million through the CARES Act.

While late fees for renters have not been waived, as has been done for mortgage payments, Murphy noted the “one thing we want to prevent is somebody getting crushed by the late fees.”

Murphy said the state’s moratorium on lockouts due to eviction or foreclosure remains in place, and hopes to strengthen protections for tenants in the future. He also recently signed an executive order allowing tenants to pay rent with their security deposit.

In April, he suspended rent increases for 36,000 low- and moderate-income homes, and some cities, including Hoboken and Newark, have independently imposed rent freezes.

Since the pandemic began in mid-March, more than 1.1 million New Jersey residents have filed for unemployment, as nonessential business were forced to close, causing the state’s unemployment rate to surge to 15.3%. Many say they’ve been waiting for weeks to get paid and have struggled with the state’s busy phone and online systems.

Oliver said the new program will use federal funds allocated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

New Jersey, a densely populated state of 9 million residents, has reported at least 11,531 deaths attributed to COVID-19, with 158,844 cases, since the outbreak began here March 4. Officials on Friday announced 131 new deaths and 1,117 new positive tests.

Only New York has more deaths and cases among American states.

New Jersey is currently the first stage of the governor’s multi-phase reopening plan, though Murphy has not provided hard dates or specific benchmarks the state has to hit to reach the next two stages. He said Friday he will have more details Monday, including a date when Stage 2 can begin.

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