Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Local News

January 13, 2013

Dems: Pay housing aid directly to landlords


Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Pascoal and LAGN member Lou Rizzo, a real estate agent, say a change in the law would help stabilize housing stock and property values across the county.

In Niagara Falls, which is ranked the third-poorest city in the United States, about 20 percent of residential properties are abandoned. Rizzo asserted many of those properties were rendered worthless by occupants who blew off rent and/or damaged units without consequences other than eviction, which Social Services automatically underwrites for welfare recipients.

“It’s not that (the abandoned houses) weren’t producing, they were destroyed,” he said.

“When landlords suffer loss after loss after loss, they can’t keep investing in property. It becomes unviable,” Pascoal said.

Rizzo links misuse of housing grants with high crime and drug-use rates and, ultimately, broken homes for children. The community foots the bill through high taxes, on ever-more depressed property values, and the children — who were supposed to be lifted up by welfare — suffer the consequences.

“It’s time taxpayers stand up and scrutinize how our money’s really being spent,”Rizzo said. “We’re trying to use a common-sense approach to turning the area around. One thing we can do is hold the culprits accountable.”

Pascoal suggested eviction rates of welfare recipients would decrease significantly if Social Services paid landlords directly. That in turn would help stabilize children’s lives, as they wouldn’t be uprooted from home and school so often, he said.

Direct payment of rent to rental property owners would not strip welfare recipients’ leverage over errant landlords, according to Virtuoso. Tenants can always report property deficiencies to their local municipal building/code inspection office, and welfare recipients can report deficiencies to Social Services and arrange withholding of rent until they’re fixed, he said.

The county resolutions, co-sponsored by Virtuoso and fellow Niagara Falls-based legislators Jason Zona and Owen Steed, may be taken up by the full Legislature at its Tuesday business meeting.

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