Niagara County Lawmakers Pushing Ahead on Rent Payment Plan
By Johnny Destino
Niagara County Legislature Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso and Legislator Jason Zona are pushing ahead with their plan to make temporary assistance payments for rent go directly to landlords. And, despite some thinking to the contrary, they believe the legislature does not have to wait for Albany to act.
Under state Social Services Law, whenever a recipient of public assistance is eligible for a payment for housing, such payment may be made directly to the landlord.
But regulations imposed since the law’s inception have allowed tenants to redirect rental allowance to themselves, creating issues of non-payment for property owners as the welfare recipient often spends the money on something other than rent.
In 2003, regulatory changes were made to the law allowing local commissioners of social services the option of making direct payments to landlords as a method of "preventing homelessness by assuring that the clients’ benefits are going toward shelter, utilities and heat,” as the memo authorizing the change reads.
Virtuoso, working with members of the Landlord Association of Greater Niagara, used the same justification earlier this year in pursuing their goal of securing home-rule legislation for Niagara County requiring that in order to divert the direct payments away from the landlord, both the tenant and landlord must agree to it.
The plan passed the Niagara County legislature by a 13-1 vote, and, thanks to the discovery of the memo, Virtuoso and Zona are submitting a resolution this week making the changes to the local social services policies for the legislature to take up at their meeting next Tuesday, April 16.
Niagara County won’t be the first to make the decision to change to direct pay to landlords from welfare tenants.
New York City offers its landlords the right to get direct payments.
But even cities without political clout can do this.
The Onondaga County Department of Social Services implemented policy changes last year including the requirement for direct pay to landlords of tenant shelter allowances.
Onondaga did not seek home rule permission from Albany.
In addition to mandating direct payment of rent, Onondaga officials set up a series of protections for landlords and tenants for the maintenance and care of property and allowing back rent to be paid out of future temporary assistance allowances.
Tenants concerned about code violations at Onondaga County residences can alert the social services department to withhold rent payments until the landlord fixes the property. In this way, the dual goals of providing safe housing and reducing child homelessness can be achieved.
"Now that it’s been determined that home-rule legislation isn’t needed from Albany," Zona said, "the plan might become reality.”
Proponents say this move will secure and improve the housing stock in Niagara County for tenants and property owners alike since landlords who do not get rent cannot keep up their properties well.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||