Jersey City, New Jersey, a city that has had trouble sending out federal rental assistance funds to its residents, plans to reopen its application process in early October after a report from HuffPost about the slow pace.
The previous application period ran from Aug. 17 through Sept. 7.
On Friday, Mayor Steven Fulop (D) personally emailed a constituent, who asked not to be named in this story and who had written to the mayor about their need for rental assistance.
Fulop replied that while the city currently limits aid to people living in owner-occupied buildings with fewer than five units, the eligibility will soon be expanded to larger buildings, including ones where the owner does not live on-site.
The mayor said the application process will reopen on Oct. 2, and that the city will make an announcement this week.
Oct. 2 is a Saturday, which seems like an usual day for a government to open up an application process. Fulop’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the new start date, or on whether people who already applied and were rejected will have to submit new applications.
Fulop emailed the constituent a day after HuffPost revealed that Jersey City, the state’s second most populous city, has struggled to start its federal rental assistance program and get money out the door. The main holdup is the owner-occupied requirement ― an uncommon criteria in these sorts of programs, and one that came at the request of Fulop himself.
On Sept. 9, the Jersey City Housing Authority, which is administering the rental assistance program, gave a status update on the rental assistance funds during a call with other city officials and local nonprofits.
The agency said it had received more than 1,100 applications and processed roughly 900. Of those, officials denied 800 applications for funding, mostly because the applicants did not live in owner-occupied buildings.
As of Sept. 9, the city had approved just 45 applications and allocated $450,000 in all.
The numbers were shared with HuffPost by someone familiar with the contents of the call, who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to share the data, which has not yet been made public.
In December, the federal government approved the emergency rental assistance funds. The Jersey City Council voted to accept the $7.8 million in March, meaning that the city government sat on the money for months before opening the application process on Aug. 17 ― far later than the programs in other places, including the surrounding Hudson County and elsewhere in New Jersey.
Fulop spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said the city waited until Aug. 17 to start its application process because it had to make sure it “had the right technology and resources in place to manage the process and to be compliant” ― an explanation that does not address why the city was so far behind other places in the country.
To be clear, Jersey City is not alone in being slow. According to the latest Treasury Department data of emergency rental assistance funds, 89% of the $46.5 billion available to states, cities and counties had not been distributed through the end of July. At least 50 of those places had not sent out a single penny, according to a HuffPost analysis.
Wallace-Scalcione had previously said that Jersey City authorities focused on small owner-operated buildings because they wanted to make sure smaller landlords would have a change to get funds.
“We knew that if we broadly open the program, a couple of the very large developers/landlords that are more organized would exhaust the funds with their several hundred unit buildings,” she told HuffPost last week.
Yet the vast majority of applicants have been denied funding anyway. Wallace-Scalcione said the plan for the program was always to start with small owner-operated buildings, and then, in two-week increments, expand to larger buildings.
But more than a month after the city started its program, it still hasn’t expanded or reopened it. And if the program does get its application process up and running again in October, a key deadline will have already passed.
If state and local governments have not obligated up to 65% of their funds by the end of September, the Treasury Department has the authority to take the money back and redistribute it to places that have sent out funds more efficiently.
Wallace-Scalcione said last week that the Fulop administration is confident it can meet the federal deadline.