Tonawanda News

Local News

January 13, 2013

Rent assistance questioned as lawmaker, landlord group seeks changes

Tonawanda News — NIAGARA FALLS — State law allows qualified individuals in need to receive a shelter allowance grant that is supposed to be used to cover their monthly rent. 

Bob Pascoal, president of the Landlord Association of Greater Niagara, says that while the grant program is well intentioned, in many cases in the Niagara Falls area it’s simply not working.

The reason?

Pascoal and other landlord association members contend a loophole in state law that allows shelter grant recipients to use the money for purposes other than rent is costing rental property owners big dollars while costing the renters themselves the ability to meet their monthly obligations. 

“The system has to be looked at and this is just a first step,” said Pascoal, who is working with a local county lawmaker on a plan to tighten rules governing the use of shelter grant funds. “We’re not asking that them to change the program. We’re just asking them to change the process.”

Pascoal said the “process” currently allows recipients of public assistance to have their shelter allowance grants turned over to them, as opposed to being directly delivered to their landlords each month. As a result, he said, some renters who qualify for the grants use the money on whatever they please, often causing them to fall behind on rental payments as a result. Current regulations do not mandate that the shelter allowance grants be used for rent, a situation Pascoal says doesn’t make sense and needs to be changed.

“If you get a grant and you spend that grant outside the purview of the grant, they’ll take that grant away,” said Pascoal, who owns several rental properties in the Falls with is wife. “Why is this grant different?”

Pascoal said the situation leads to problems both for the landlords and the tenants. In the landlords’ case, Pascoal said they not only lose out on monthly rental income, but also often must deal with added costs for evicting tenants that can’t afford to pay and the need to find new tenants to replace them. On the other side, Pascoal said, individuals qualifying for rental assistance who do not use the money for its intended purpose often find themselves in need of a place to live and even more help from the public assistance system. 

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