Tonawanda News

Local News

March 9, 2013

Welfare rent reform bill pitched

Tonawanda News — State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, has authored a bill that would authorize the Niagara County Legislature to order local public assistance recipients’ housing grants be paid directly to landlords.

Bill S.3979, submitted to the Senate and referred to its local government committee on March 4, is one of three measures suggested by the county legislature and the Landlord Association of Greater Niagara to ensure welfare recipients’ rent subsidies are spent on housing and nothing else.

The proposed state law would empower the county legislature to make a local law authorizing Niagara County Social Services to give welfare clients’ monthly shelter allowances to rental property owners or their agents.

State law allows temporary assistance recipients to decide whether they want rent subsidies paid directly to landlords or want the money in their hands to be able to pay rent themselves.

But, as landlord association members have noted, state law doesn’t make it a crime or a civil violation for grant recipients to spend their housing subsidies on things other than housing.

The association claims misuse of housing grants is pervasive and ends up costing local taxpayers millions of dollars a year. When welfare recipients are evicted for non-payment of rent, Social Services not only does not try to recover housing subsidies, it underwrites the client’s move to new quarters, LAGN President Bob Pascoal observed. Meanwhile, landlords eat high costs with every eviction, in lost rent and court fees, and that money isn’t available to reinvest in property.

The bigger-picture consequences are property blight, abandonment and devaluation, and chronic instability for welfare-dependent families, the association says.

Maziarz said he’s “in general agreement” with the association’s stance — that rent subsidies should be used for rent only — and has no problem sponsoring a home rule message for Niagara County, so that it can do things differently than the rest of the state.

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