Help for the homeless

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 3/29/22

LIBERTY, NY — The rising cost of housing has been an enduring problem across New York State.

The effects were muted during the COVID-19 pandemic by a wave of emergency response measures. The …

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Help for the homeless

Posted

LIBERTY, NY — The rising cost of housing has been an enduring problem across New York State.

The effects were muted during the COVID-19 pandemic by a wave of emergency response measures. The most direct of these—a number of eviction moratoria passed at the federal and the state level—kept renters in their homes even as the prices of apartments went up around them. An Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) administered through the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance provided support for renters who were behind on their payments, particularly those who had suffered hardships from the pandemic.

These programs have begun to fall off as COVID-19 case numbers dropped throughout 2022. While ERAP continues to accept applications, a lack of federal funding means that applications submitted after September 21, 2021 aren’t currently being paid out. And the state’s last-standing eviction moratorium expired on January 16, giving landlords the green light to begin eviction proceedings.

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office has been busy handling evictions since the moratorium was lifted. According to undersheriff Eric Chaboty, the office has conducted two to three evictions a day since February, clearing out a backlog that piled up during the time the moratorium was in force. Most of these evictions have been for non-payment of rent, with other grounds for eviction including a violation of the terms of rent or a charge of nuisance.

Most of the people thus evicted have relatives they can stay with until they’re back on their feet, said Chaboty. But when people have nowhere to go, they fall back on county services, services to which the sheriff’s office connects them.

The Knights Inn

Those services were highlighted at a March 17 meeting of the Sullivan County Legislature, as health and human services commissioner John Liddle introduced a contract between the county and the Knights Inn in Liberty.

The county already provides temporary assistance to the homeless by housing them in area motels. The contract with the Knights Inn formalizes  part of that arrangement; for $800,000, the Knights Inn will provide the county with 30 rooms for the homeless from January 1 to December 31.

Entering into a contract with the inn has a few benefits, Liddle said. The county will see around $161,000 in savings, compared to what it would spend renting rooms at standard per-diem rates. The inn will also provide the county with office space for an on-site caseworker, who will provide the homeless housed at the inn with assistance working through things like DMV processes, rental and food stamp applications and the like.

Legislators had no qualms with the idea of the contract, and approved it by a unanimous vote. What discussion there was centered around the broader issues of housing prices, issues for which temporary housing could only provide a temporary solution.

Legislative chair Robert Doherty asked whether the county could end up paying for rooms it would not use. “In theory, we could,” said Liddle. “But we have been working with them on this for a while, [and] we have all 30 rooms occupied. I don’t see a scenario in the next eight to 12 months where we wouldn’t have about 30 rooms [occupied].”

The county was doing what it could to get people out of temporary assistance and into stable housing, Liddle added. But “it’s difficult—while people seem to be responding well to the services we’re providing, there’s a limited inventory to get people back out into.”

Housing that participates in Section 8, the federal program that provides rental assistance to low- and moderate-income households, is in particularly short supply. The Monticello Housing Authority, one of the authorities that administer the Section 8 program, has a waiting list of over five years, and when people are struggling to make life work paycheck-to-paycheck, said Liddle, they can’t afford to wait five years for housing.

Some of that backlog could be due to problems with the Section 8 program, said legislator Joe Perrello, speaking from his experience as a landlord. The program’s guidelines don’t allow applicants’ friends or family members to chip in and help cover their rent, nor do they provide families with enough space to be fully comfortable. But the biggest problem was rates: if the Section 8 program came in and wanted to pay $1,050 for a three-bedroom apartment that could go for $1,600 on the open market, it couldn’t be done, Perrello said.

There was a discussion about solutions that could help with the problem of supply, including incentivising the construction of affordable rental units and affecting state policies around rental assistance. But the only certainty was that the problem of housing wasn’t going away any time soon.

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