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Lawmakers push to change laws for rent assistance

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Buffalo: Lawmakers push to change laws for rent assistance
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Lawmakers in Niagara County are pushing to make changes in state law for anyone who receives rent assistance through Social Services. YNN's Antoinette DelBel has more the provisions and its current impact on landlords.

NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y - After he wasn't able to find work, Lockport resident Stanley Wilson signed up to receive temporary assistance through Social Services.

He said like many on public assistance, the program will help him pay for rent. However, he said many don't do that.

"They don't just use their money for the things that the money is really sent to them for," said Wilson. "They use it for other things and it isn't right for taxpayers."

Temporary Assistance recipients get a certain amount of money that’s allotted for shelter per month based on income and family size.

"They have the ability to decide whether or not they want the shelter allowance directly vouchered to the landlord or whether or not they want to take the money and pay the landlord directly," said Anthony Restaino, the Niagara County Social Services commissioner.

According to Restaino, shelter allowance can range from $174 to just more than $300 per household without children and up to $400 with. But by law, he said recipients don't have to use that money toward rent - something county legislators want to change.

"A lot of landlords are not receiving their money. They can't reinvest back into their properties," said County Legislature Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso.

"They don't use that money for housing and shelter, they use if for some other source, why is that not considered a misappropriation of government funds?" said Lou Rizzo, a Niagara Falls landlord.

Landlord Bob Pascoal agreed.

"We get an indirect impact from the churn that happens when there's a number of evictions that take place," he said.

Rizzo and Pascoal are part of the Landlords Association of Greater Niagara that helped work on resolution with the legislature to change shelter allowance stipulations.

They said while some tenants on temporary assistance they've rented to in the past have been great, not all are, and in some cases, landlords said they end up footing the bill.

"They move from property to property and there's no mechanism in place to hold them accountable for their actions," said Rizzo.

And Restaino said those who have been on public assistance for more than five years are required to have their shelter allowance sent directly to the landlord.

Once the legislature passes the resolution, it will be sent to the state.

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