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Bid to Pay Rent Subsidies to Landlords Killed by GOP

By Johnny Destino

Democrat Owen Steed joins the Republicans in stifling talk of welfare

Is the landlord getting paid directly or not?

Apparently not.

During their Feb. 11 meeting, the Niagara County Legislature's Community Services Committee killed a home rule proposal that would have required rent subsidies for welfare recipients to be paid directly to their landlords.

The proposal was put forth by the Democratic Minority Caucus last month in a series of bills that would have also imposed criminal penalties for welfare tenants who misappropriate their housing funds. But it was killed by the Republicans and, in a surprise move, a Democratic defector.

In what appeared to be a well-choreographed move, Legislator Owen Steed (D – Niagara Falls) changed horses and moved to table the welfare reform proposal, cutting off all debate on anything to do with direct payments to landlords.

Many members of the Landlord Association of Greater Niagara, Social Services representatives, and legislators who were present and who wished to comment were barred from discussion about the matter by Steed's surprise motion.

Steed aligned himself with the Republican caucus whose constituents strongly support these efforts, leading many to believe that a deal is being made to further weaken and divide the minority caucus.

Legislator Cherie Copelin (R – Niagara Falls) supported the motion to cut off discussion, stating that she “didn’t have enough information” yet. Information that the landlords and social services representatives gathered at the meeting were there to impart.

Copelin, a Republican, resides in Niagara Falls and represents a traditionally stable neighborhood in the LaSalle area of the city. However, despite the fact that the city has a high home vacancy rate and two-thirds of its city residents are on some sort of public assistance or retired on fixed incomes, there are pockets of her district with which she is increasingly out of touch.
Legislative Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso (D – Niagara Falls) and Legislator Jason Zona (D – Niagara Falls), sponsored the welfare reform legislation last month after receiving input from the Landlord Association. The Landlord Association had been actively reaching out to all members of the legislature, but it was the Democrats who picked up the ball and ran with the reform package.

The Republican majority’s decision to halt this legislation was unexpected, and the proposed welfare reform may be dead on arrival for having failed to make it out of committee.

Virtuoso said that “Copelin did not want to hear any information and that’s why it was tabled.”

“These proposals would have brought some accountability to those who receive public money for rent and to make sure it isn’t spent elsewhere. My main concerns are that the children of the families receiving this money for rent are living in stable, well maintained homes, and that the landlords are able to afford to keep up their properties and preserve our city’s neighborhoods,” said Virtuoso.

Zona stated that “This whole charade shows the public again that the 'dirty dozen' supports misuse of public money. Why else would [the Republican majority] vote against making sure public dollars are spent according to law?”

Many of the area landlords who are supporting this legislation have said that without a change in the way rent payments are made, many of their properties will fall into disrepair, leaving Niagara Falls and other communities to further deteriorate.

Robert Pascoal, president of the Landlord Association, said he was “stunned” by what occurred during the committee meeting.
“We rallied public attendance to witness our legislators doing the people's work, and instead witnessed the dismissal of our primary resolution and the tabling of two others. And it took all of five minutes,” said Pascoal.

According to Pascoal, at no time since the proposals were introduced over a month ago was he or anyone else from the Landlord Association contacted by legislators concerning the issue. As of a week after two of the proposals were tabled, Pascoal indicated that he has still not been contacted to provide any information to the committee members.

On the “Landlord Association of Greater Niagara” Facebook page, Pascoal described the meeting for its readers: “The legislative process is new to some of us who were there that night, especially as close as we were to it. It’s ... like watching people doing nothing at all.”

Steed’s concern is said to revolve around his welfare constituents “dignity” being offended by not being in charge of “their [own] money.” The joint action of the committee members throttling this legislation is offensive to many for obvious reasons.

Landlords Need Protection or City's Slide Will Continue

Unless you protect the landlord by requiring welfare tenants to use their rent subsidies to actually pay their rent, you are letting the city descend into further decay and poverty.

Right now, there is a greater supply of apartments and rapidly decreasing demand because of the decline of population in Niagara Falls. There is a housing stock with hundreds, perhaps thousands of vacant units in a city that once had the housing stock for 120,000 people, and now houses less than 50,000.

At any time, a welfare tenant can choose from many available apartments.

Meanwhile, the system is set up for the welfare tenant to cheat the landlord, and in many ways, the welfare tenant may feel justified to do so for the benefit of her family.

If the law required the tenant to pay the rent that she receives from welfare, properties would be in better condition and the temptation to cheat the landlord and move constantly from one apartment to another would be removed.

The fact is that a welfare tenant with few possessions can move into an apartment and immediately stop paying rent, forcing the landlords to evict them at their own expense. Then they just move on to the next target, sometimes in the middle of the night, every few months or so.

The tenant can simply choose from dozens of other apartments and repeat the game plan. In the course of a few years, the tenant may avoid paying more than a few months’ rent and have thousands of dollars extra for their families.

That is how the system is flawed.

Some say the tenant is a fool not to milk the system in this way, and only if you compel the tenant through the system to pay the rent to the landlord directly can this be solved.

Requiring a welfare tenant to pay the rent the taxpayer's have given for his or her shelter directly to the landlord would be additional encouragement for the tenant to remove him or herself from welfare and find employment to better themselves. No one can be truly happy who appropriates the labor of others (through government), while doing no work to deserve it.

This has been the dirty little secret that no landlord or social liberal wants to hear.

Rent Assistance Often Goes Elsewhere

“Their own money,” Owen Steed says, of welfare money allocated for rent, that some tenants choose to use for other purposes, thereby stiffing the landlord.

Is it their money or the landlord's?

This is a large part of the problem: government grants of assistance for people in need are being viewed as entitlements by an ever expanding number of people.

That the recipients do not earn this money, that it was produced by the labor of another, and taken from them by threat of force, no longer matters. Stigma and shame have all but disappeared from the public sphere.

Where private charity of days gone by carried with it the co-equal responsibility that beneficiaries be good neighbors and citizens, the government requires no such charge.

The welfare tenant gets his/her welfare money based on the requirement that he or she has an apartment and is paying rent.

In fact the landlord is at the mercy of the tenant because there are plenty of places to choose from in a depressed real estate market.

If you do not require the tenant to pay the landlord, the landlord is helpless because the tenants know they can just move every two or three months, and skip out on their obligation to pay rent.

If the landlord is unable to collect a rent, then he is unable to pay the expenses of the property and the property will fall into decay and foreclosure.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 19 , 2013