Tonawanda News

April 21, 2013

EDITORIAL: Direct-pay rent deal makes sense

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The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Kudos to the Niagara County Legislature for making what seems to us to be a logical change in the distribution of Direct Payment of Temporary Assistance, more commonly known as shelter allowance.

After a few weeks of haggling, county lawmakers this week approved a resolution allowing the department of social services to direct payments of all TANF recipients’ shelter allowances to landlords for “administrative ease of the department.” 

The move represents a well-deserved victory for the members of the Landlord Association of Greater Niagara, a community based group that did the legwork necessary to bring about a change it felt necessary. 

Their logic is sound here: Individuals who receive government aid to cover their rent should not be allowed to use the money for any other purpose. Starting June 1, the social services department will be responsible for directing those funds to landlords, eliminating a loophole that has, in the past, freed up recipients to spend rent money elsewhere.

As landlord association leaders have argued, the misuse of rental assistance funds contributes to a myriad of community problems: Eviction, displaced tenants and disruption of families, to name a few. 

Democratic Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso and his colleague, Jason Zona, deserve credit for responding to the association’s needs and leading the effort to have the rules changed. In what unfortunately amounts to an all-too unusual situation around here, Republicans in the GOP-controlled legislature supported their resolution, allowing the measure to pass in a bi-partisan manner on Tuesday. 

Only Legislator Owen Steed, a Democrat from the Falls, voted against the switch, arguing that it does not protect the interests of TANF recipients. Steed views control over rent allowance as the only leverage most tenants have to ensure their landlords maintain their properties and make necessary repairs. 

While we do firmly believe individuals receiving rental assistance from the government should be mandated to use those funds to pay their monthly rent, we appreciate Steed’s argument in a sense that we here in Niagara Falls are keenly aware of the generally poor quality of the city’s housing stock.

On that note, we encourage Steed and other officials in Niagara County to continue to investigate the possibility of establishing a more vigorous inspection process for properties where landlords rent to tenants receiving TANF funds.

The end result here should be as follows: Individuals in need and who qualify receive TANF subsidies to help pay their rent, those funds are delivered to landlords who provide them with housing, those landlords are monitored to make sure the housing they provide to TANF recipients is being maintained to an acceptable standard. 

As members of the landlord association fully understand, the system is far from perfect. The need for change is great, especially in Niagara Falls. 

We congratulate all parties involved for working together to accomplish what has been done already.

We also encourage them to continue to work together to streamline the system wherever possible, for the benefit of not only the landlords and the tenants but the community as a whole.