Tonawanda News

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January 17, 2013

Stricter controls on welfare benefits urged

Tonawanda News — Proposed resolutions by Niagara County lawmakers to try requiring welfare recipients’ housing grants be paid directly to landlords are going to a legislative committee for further discussion.

Three resolutions by the Legislature’s Democratic minority caucus were introduced Tuesday, all speaking to a perceived shortcoming in state law that permits welfare recipients to decide how to spend their monthly housing grants.

The countywide Landlords Association of Greater Niagara is advocating for a change in the law, to ensure housing grants are paid directly to property owners. The association asserts such an arrangement would help reduce rates of tenant eviction due to non-payment of rent and, in the bigger picture, help reverse property blight and abandonment. 

The issue drew about a dozen Niagara Falls residents to the Legislature meeting this week, most in support of the resolutions.

Falls lawmakers Dennis Virtuoso, Jason Zona and Owen Steed put their names to three resolutions asking the state Legislature to: change state law so that monthly housing grants are paid directly to landlords, not Temporary Aid to Needy Families recipients; or make a new law making it a crime for welfare recipients to spend their housing grants on anything other than rent; or approve a “home rule” message authorizing the Niagara County Department of Social Services to pay rent subsidies to landlords with or without welfare recipients’ consent.

The Landlords Association estimates members went through more than 1,000 eviction proceedings in 2009-2010, at a total cost of $3.8 million to the community from court costs, property repairs, lost rent and moving expenses. “A good portion” of the damages can be attributed to welfare clients, association President Bob Tascoal asserted.

The Niagara County Department of Social Services does not track local welfare clients’ eviction rates at all, let alone due to nonpayment of rent. The department is assessing the cost to move clients from one place to another, though, after contact with the Association, Commissioner Anthony Restaino said this week.

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