Last week, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that New York is the first state approved by the U.S. Treasury to launch a federally funded Homeowner Assistance Fund.

For thousands of homeowners who have been struggling to stay in their homes as they face the economic fallout from the pandemic, this means they will finally be getting much-needed relief. In New York, 8% of homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments, and half of those homeowners are people of color. The Homeowner Assistance Fund seeks to mitigate the threat of a tsunami of home losses that would intensify the already growing racial divide in homeownership.

The program is being administered by the state’s affordable housing agency, Homes and Community Renewal, in association with Sustainable Neighborhoods, a subsidiary of the Center for NYC Neighborhoods.

The $539 million Homeowner Assistance Fund is meant to serve as emergency relief for homeowners, including families who are late on reverse mortgage payments, property taxes, non-government backed mortgages, or co-op, condo, or HOA fees, as well as lot rent payments for manufactured homes. The HAF program will be a crucial tool in homeowner relief, but funding from this program alone will not be sufficient to address the scale of pandemic-related mortgage delinquency in New York State. That’s why the program was designed with an array of interventions for homeowners, including assistance with negotiating with banks and servicers to lower mortgage payments as well as housing counseling and legal services. Outreach to inform homeowners about their post-forbearance options will continue to play an enormous role in the state’s recovery.

The design of the HAF program took into account lessons learned from other recent government aid programs. An extensive outreach campaign has been arranged through a network of community-based organizations to publicize the program as widely as possible, with special consideration for common languages spoken in New York. Outreach and application materials are available in English, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Italian, Korean, Polish, Russian, Spanish, and Yiddish.

The program will also be prioritizing socially disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, including racial and ethnic minorities who have been subject to housing discrimination, applicants with limited English proficiency, citizens 62 years of age or older, individuals with disabilities, and those who lack adequate access to web-based technology.

Applications will be available Jan. 3, 2022. In the meantime, homeowners are encouraged to go to nyhomeownerfund.org to learn about the application ahead of time and to review the FAQS and eligibility requirements. The process has been streamlined to be as low-burden as possible for applicants, and a call center has been set up to offer free application assistance in 10 languages from 9am-5pm on Monday through Friday. The call center can be reached at 1-844-77-NYHAF (1-844-776-9423).