Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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January 13, 2013

Dems: Pay housing aid directly to landlords

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — County Democratic lawmakers are calling for changes in state law to compel welfare recipients to give their rent subsidies to landlords.

Three resolutions are being put to the Legislature, all calling on New York State to: change state law so that Social Services departments pay welfare recipients’ monthly housing grants directly to rental property owners; make it a crime statewide for welfare recipients to not turn over their housing grants to landlords; or give Niagara County Social Services only the authority to directly pay rental property owners on behalf of all Temporary Aid to Needy Families recipients.

The resolutions are crafted with input from the Landlord Association of Greater Niagara, an organization with members across Niagara County that says welfare clients’ misuse of housing grants is pervasive and ends up costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

LAGN estimates that in 2009-2010, members commenced more than 1,000 evictions due to tenants’ non-payment of rent. Considering lost rent, the court costs associated with the eviction process and expenses incurred by Social Services to move clients to new housing, the “damages” to the community were about $3.8 million. “A good portion” is attributed to welfare recipients who didn’t use their housing grants to pay rent, LAGN President Bob Pascoal said.

Presently, the way state law is written, it’s up to welfare recipients to decide where Social Services will direct their housing grants, to their landlord or them. When recipients take them money themselves, it’s not a crime if they don’t use it to pay rent.

That needs to change, county lawmaker Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said.

“If the county used a grant for something other than its given purpose, (the grantor) would come after us for fraud. Rent subsidies are grants ... . Using them for something other than paying rent is misappropriation of government funds,” he said.

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