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Utica hopes to offer rent relief for low-income residents

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Housing advocates held a virtual rally to urge Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri's administration to speed up the process of using federal dollars on a rent relief program to help local tenants.

New York state has implemented a moratorium on evictions through August 20, but Utica tenants like Teoka Muhammad note that provides people with only a temporary solution.

"It is stressful sitting at home wondering am I going to make enough money or the unemployment- or are we going to get a stimulus check that is going to help us to take care of the rent, the National Grid [utility bill], which is cool that they said you know that said they are not going to turn this off but that doesn't stop us from having to pay," Muhammad said.

Congress allocated nearly $750,000 for Utica as part of the federal stimulus program meant to help people avoid homelessness. Utica Mayor Rob Palmieri has submitted a plan to the federal government for how to use those funds that includes support for homeless shelters and $330,000 in rent relief. If approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, renters with family incomes less than 50 percent of the area median income could receive assistance with paying as much as three months' rent.

Yet, some housing advocates like Shana Dahlin with Citizen Action New York say this plan should have been submitted much earlier considering the Utica Common Council passed a resolution a month ago urging the use of these dollars for rent relief.

"In a city that's comprised of roughly 50 percent renters, each passing month without assistance makes it more likely for folks to end up on the streets," Dahlin said.