HRA spent over $200 million on rent arrear payments in 2016, but will not identify the landlords paid

By LOUIS FLORES

The New York City Human Resources Administration spent $214,475,602 in rent arrear payments in calendar year 2016 to landlords on behalf of tenants, according to information provided to Progress Queens. The information was provided in response to a request filed under the State's Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL.

The FOIL Request had sought three categories of information.

In calendar year 2016, the City of New York paid over $200 million to landlords on behalf of tenants in the form of rent arrear payments. The City makes available an emergency loan program, known as the One Shot Deal, to tenants facing eviction and seeking emergency public assistance. The rent arrear payments do not include amounts paid under the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) program. Source : HRA/Public Domain

In calendar year 2016, the City of New York paid over $200 million to landlords on behalf of tenants in the form of rent arrear payments. The City makes available an emergency loan program, known as the One Shot Deal, to tenants facing eviction and seeking emergency public assistance. The rent arrear payments do not include amounts paid under the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) program. Source : HRA/Public Domain

First, the FOIL Request sought the release of the amounts paid by the City of New York under its One Shot Deal, an emergency loan program for which tenants facing eviction in Housing Court could apply. However, Progress Queens was informed that the One Shot Deal was not a legal term, and, as such, the name of the emergency loan program was "used to refer to rent arrear payments (other than Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS) payments)." The rent arrear payments disclosed to Progress Queens represented "total non-FEPS rent arrear payments issued for calendar year 2016," according to the FOIL Response. The City did not disclose the amounts paid to landlords under the FEPS program.

Second, Progress Queens also sought the identification of the landlords, which received the One Shot Deal payments, but City officials declined to identify the landlords, because, the public release of the names of landlords "would be an unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy, and also a violation of Public Officers Law, Article 6, § 87(2)(b)." The City's rationale for withholding the names of landlords, which received taxpayer money in the form of rent arrear payments in 2016, created the appearance of a separate and unequal application of privacy rights between landlords and tenants. Whereas the City has argued that landlords receiving taxpayer money in the form of rent arrear payments were due privacy, tenants fighting landlords in Housing Court not only received no privacy for their past Housing Court proceedings, but some landlords actually use tenants' Housing Court histories as a way to discriminate against tenants applying for apartment leases, according to a report published by The New York Times. Moreover, by keeping secret the identities of landlords receiving rent arrear payments, the City was withholding from release the identities of landlords, which may be serially bringing at least some Housing Court actions against tenants.

Third, Progress Queens sought the disclosure of information showing whether any landlords were referred by HRA for investigation for any violations in calendar year 2016. In response to this category of information, Progress Queens was informed that "no records were found containing the names of landlords investigated or referred for investigation for housing or code violations, for violations of fair housing laws, or for tenant harassment or violation of civil procedure during a Housing Court action against tenants." The statement of no records came with a qualification, namely, that the files of HRA's clients were not searched. Because the application process for the One Shot Deal requires that applicants submit copies of some Housing Court pleadings, HRA could have in its possession documents that could show allegations made by tenants of violations.

HRA is headed by Steven Banks, the former attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society.

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