Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 11, 2013

Property owners, Falls legislators leave meeting disappointed after rent measures stalled

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — A county legislative committee gave a tepid reception to a trio of resolutions aimed at convincing the state to make welfare recipients use their monthly rent subsidies on rent and nothing else.

The resolutions, proposed last month by Niagara Falls lawmakers Dennis Virtuoso and Jason Zona, seek changes in state law so that recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families are compelled to turn over their monthly rent grants to their landlords, and risk civil or criminal penalties if they do not.

Presently welfare recipients are free to use their rent subsidies however they choose. It's taxpayer money that they're spending, however, and using rent money for anything else is akin to misappropriation of government funds, Virtuoso said previously.

His and Zona's resolution calling for a change in the state law was tabled by a vote of the legislature's Community Services committee. Also put into limbo was one asking the state for a "home rule" message so that Niagara County Social Services can have a policy of paying rent grants directly to landlords.

The resolution calling for penalties statewide for welfare recipients who misspend their rent grants died, for a lack of a second to committee member Owen Steed's motion to send it to the full legislature for a vote.

The resolutions were crafted with heavy input from the Landlord Association of Greater Niagara, which argues that direct-pay requirements would help reduce rates of tenant eviction due to nonpayment of rent and, in the bigger picture, help reverse property blight and abandonment. 

A dozen or so association members who attended the committee meeting left disappointed, and not just because they hadn't been invited to address the issue.

The swiftness of committee voting on the resolutions — in less than five minutes, after almost no discussion — gave some LAGN members the idea that the legislators just don't care about rental property owners.

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