Westchester Rolls Out Comprehensive COVID Aid Program To Help Suffering Homeowners, Tenants and Landlords

John Jordan | September 2020

From left, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. Executive Director Marlene Zarfes, Building & Realty Institute of Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Region Executive Director Tim Foley and Westchester County Department of Planning Commissioner Norma Drummond.

WHITE PLAINS—Westchester County has rolled out four distinct housing assistance programs that are being funded by HUD and the CARES Act geared to offering a comprehensive approach in dealing with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced the “Community Build Back Program” on Sept. 17 that includes two programs that will utilize HUD money—the RED STOP Eviction Project and the RED Rent HELP Project—and two separate initiatives that will utilize $10 million in CARES ACT money—the Blue Priority Homeowners Initiative and the Blue Small Business Landlord Initiative.

Latimer said of the Community Build Back Program initiatives, “As a result of COVID-19 and the impact on the economy, both the federal government and New York State issued moratoriums on tenant evictions. Those moratoriums are coming to an end and unemployment benefits have been greatly diminished. The Community Build Back Program will enable families to stay in their homes as we head into the fall/winter season.”

The RED STOP Eviction Project utilizes federal HUD funds and will provide up to four months of rental or utility arrears for tenants facing eviction or shut off as long as they can demonstrate that their financial hardship is due to COVID. Tenants must be within 21 days of eviction, must demonstrate ability to pay their rent going forward, and must live in a Westchester Urban County Consortium municipality. Assistance is available through select non-profits including: Westchester Residential Opportunities, Community Housing Innovations, Washingtonville Housing Alliance and Choice of New Rochelle.

Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. Executive Director Marlene Zarfes said of the RED STOP Eviction Project, “This eviction prevention program will be a lifesaver for so many county residents at risk of becoming homeless. Westchester Residential Opportunities is proud to partner with the county to help keep people safely in their homes and keep families together.”

The RED Rent HELP Project utilizes federal HUD funds and will provide up to 12 months of rental assistance for families impacted by COVID but will focus on households where the tenants worked in industries closed until Phase 4, or who worked for a business that no longer exists. RED Rent HELP Project will be run by the county’s Planning Department.

The Blue Priority Homeowners Initiative, uses $2.5 million and focuses on homeowners facing foreclosure. Th program, which is estimated will help 325 county households and assist them with up to four months of mortgage/cooperative arrears. Homeowners must show that COVID has negatively impacted their ability to pay their mortgage. The homeowner will also have to show they were up to date on payments as of March 2020.

The program runs until the end of the year and will be administered through select nonprofits including: Westchester Residential Opportunities, Community Housing Innovations, Washingtonville Housing Alliance, HDSW (Human Development Services of Westchester) and the Bridge Fund.

A total of $7.5 million has been earmarked for the Blue Small Business Landlord Initiative to assist approximately 2,400 households in the county by working directly with their landlords and bringing their rent up to date. The program runs from now until the end of 2020, and can cover up to 75% of back rent for up to four months of rent for landlords who can show that their tenants were up to date in March, but have since not been able to pay their rent due to COVID. The program, to be done by lottery, will assist landlords who own between four and 20 units and will be run by the county’s Planning Department.

Building & Realty Institute of Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Region Executive Director Tim Foley said: “We’re thankful for the creative leadership shown by Westchester County’s Community Build Back Program, and the focus on supplying urgently-needed aid to struggling tenants, landlords, and property owners alike. The landlords and property owners of the Building & Realty Institute have been checking in on our at-risk tenants, offering flexibility and payment plans on their rent, and trying to be as accommodating as possible to good tenants who lost their jobs or lost income due to the COVID pandemic. But as the public health and economic emergency stretches on with no end-date in sight, we need government to step up to stabilize our housing situation. With this four-prong approach, Westchester County is clearly doing so.”

Westchester County Executive Latimer added, “Landlords, many times, are small business owners who depend on the rent from their properties to support their own families. We realize the chaos that nonpayment can put into their lives and their communities. The last thing we want to see is a landlord lose their property over nonpayment. That benefits no one.”

Fact sheets and applications (English and Spanish) for the programs are available on the County’s website at: www.westchestergov.com/HousingHelp.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth