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Proposed Law Would Require Inspections of Welfare Dwellings

By Mike Hudson

Dennis Virtuosor

Jason Zona

Things may be about to get tougher for welfare recipients and the slumlords who rent to them in Niagara County and in Niagara Falls, in particular.

A measure expected to be introduced by County Legislator Dennis Virtuoso will require that houses and apartments being rented to those who have their rent paid by the county Department of Social Services be inspected prior to the welfare client’s move-in date.

Currently, individuals and families whose rents are subsidized by the federal Section 8 housing program already have the prospective domiciles inspected. Virtuoso’s plan would expand that program to include all welfare recipients.

“Eighty percent of the substandard houses are attracting only welfare cases,” Virtuoso told the Niagara Falls Reporter. “It’s a quality of life problem and it’s a safety concern.”

The measure is being co-sponsored by Virtuoso’s Democratic colleagues on the legislature, Jason Zona and Owen Steed.

Sources close to the Republican majority caucus said the legislation will have GOP support as well.

“This will cut down on fraud and expenses to the county,” Virtuoso said. “And it will clean up neighborhoods like you wouldn’t believe.”

Earlier this year, the legislature passed a law that mandates direct payment to landlords for welfare clients’ rent in order to cut down on the problem of recipients spending the rent money on drugs, liquor, gambling and prostitution.

While no study was undertaken to see just how big of a problem it was, Virtuoso and other legislators said it was big enough to warrant further regulation.

The current legislation, which will require the hiring of some inspectors and perhaps even result in the creation of a whole new county department, targets those who rent substandard housing to the indigent.

“You’re not going to see slumlords here because they’re not going to be able to rent to anyone,” Virtuoso said.

A substantial percentage of the rental housing units in Niagara Falls are occupied by people who, for various reasons, are unable to pay their own rent. Some are addled by liquor and drugs, while others are simply lazy. Still others are dumber than a box of rocks or have serious and extensive criminal records that render them essentially unemployable.

A very small number have some sort of true physical infirmity that prevents them from working for a living.

Virtuoso may be predisposed to thinking of building inspections as a solution for problems since he heads up the building inspections department in the city of Niagara Falls.

But by targeting slumlords and the politically invisible people who generally live in substandard, non-code compliant housing, he may have found a winning issue that taxpayers and voters will find attractive.

It will almost certainly drive some of the welfare cheaters off of the dole.

Hopefully, the measure will not drive too many welfare recipients away from Niagara Falls, as the city is dependent on their numbers in order to receive its own welfare subsidies, state and federal funding that increases in direct proportion to the incidence of poverty here.

Make no mistake, the warehousing of ex-convicts, unwed teenage mothers and their offspring, hopeless substance abuse cases and others on the fringes of society is big business for municipal government here, and as much as anything else allows upper echelon city employees to enjoy the sorts of salaries and perks that turn their counterparts in larger and more affluent cities green with envy.



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

May 21, 2013