Tenant advocates and housing lawyers also worry about how widely landlords will participate in the program or if they will decline the aid and pursue eviction instead. State officials say tenants can still use their applications as a defense in housing court even if their landlord did not participate.
Many landlords, facing property taxes and other bills, have been desperate for the relief payments, said Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents about 4,000 property owners.
But landlords, he said, have also been stymied by technical problems, the voluminous paperwork required and a state telephone help line that often provides incomplete or contradictory information.
“There’s no other way to spin it, other than it has been a complete failure,” Mr. Martin said.
Elias Sanchez, who worked in construction until the pandemic left him unemployed early last year, owes more than $32,000 for the apartment he shares with his wife and four children. He has had to dip into savings to feed his family.
His landlord, Mr. Sanchez said, had filed eviction papers against him and several of his neighbors this year.
He started applying when the rent relief program went online in June, but he was twice unable to attach a set of required documents. Then, even after the application went through, the system indicated weeks later that his landlord had not submitted the documents needed for the payments, Mr. Sanchez said.
“I’m worried about, like many other tenants, that we’ll lose our apartments,” he said. “If I lose my apartment, I don’t have any place to stay.”