Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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April 17, 2013

Direct payment deal ordered

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Direct payment of Temporary Assistance recipients’ housing subsidies to their landlords will be the rule around Niagara County come June, after the Legislature OK’d a resolution directing the Department of Social Services to make it so Tuesday.

The resolution by Democratic lawmakers Dennis Virtuoso and Jason Zona passed with only one dissenting vote, by fellow Niagara Falls legislator Owen Steed.

The resolution directs the county Social Services department to make direct payments of all Temporary Aid to Needy Families recipients’ shelter allowances to landlords, “for administrative ease of the department,” effective June 1 or with next client contacts after June.

A directive from the legislature wasn’t necessary, since a 10-year-old state regulation already empowered individual Social Services units to arrange blanket direct payments to landlords if that’s easier for the units, but Virtuoso said the directive takes heat off of DSS Commissioner Anthony Restaino.

The direct-pay arrangement was pushed hard by the Landlord Association of Greater Niagara, which argues the lack of penalties for welfare recipients who misspend their housing grants contributes to deteriorated housing stock and unstable homes for children — and it is opposed by tenants’ rights advocates who believe withholding rent money is the only power tenants have over neglectful landlords.

The apparent intent of state law allowing welfare recipients to decide who should handle their rent grants first, them or their landlords, is to encourage recipients’ sense of dignity and financial competence. In comments to county lawmakers before the vote, Niagara Falls rental property owner Robert Cunningham s the direct-pay directive is “bigotry (aimed at people who’ve been deemed) too poor and too ignorant to pay their rent. ... It’s overkill and greatly disrespectful.”

On the pro side, Lockport rental property owners Bill Rutland and Jim Sacco said they’ve both experienced difficulties collecting past-due rent from tenants who receive Temporary Assistance.

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