Face-to-face for help with housing lies over horizon

HUDSON–“In Columbia County we have no rent stabilization or rent control. Everything is what the landlord and tenant agree on,” county Fair Housing Officer William Fisher told the county Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee meeting Wednesday, November 16. The meeting included updates on various services available to county residents.

Mr. Fisher told the committee of his concern that federal housing under a program called Section 8, which provides rental vouchers for people with low incomes, “no longer has contact with Columbia County,” adding that “It’s now centralized in Saratoga Springs.”

“What if someone wants to apply for it?” asked Supervisor William Hughes (D-Hudson, 4th Ward).

“They have to go to Saratoga Springs,” answered Mr. Fisher, although he said, “I bet there’s an application they can do on line.”

“I bet 90% of them don’t drive,” said Mr. Hughes.

Gary Flaherty, executive director of the Veteran’s Service Department, said the Veterans Administration has a program “similar to Section 8.” In it, qualifying veterans pay 30% of their income for rent, and the VA pays remaining rent.

“We are the only county in New York that has no homeless veterans,” Mr. Flaherty said.

When landlords do not want current tenants, “some are nice” when asking tenants to leave, Mr. Fisher said. But others, he said, “will do anything they can to get the tenant to leave. Harassment usually goes with evictions. The tenants need due process. If I think the tenants should involve the Attorney General’s Office or Legal Aid, I refer them to it.”

Mr. Fisher reported also referring a tenant to Legal Aid who complained about bed bugs. The landlord said the renter was responsible for getting rid of the bugs. “I think it puts too much burden on the tenant,” Mr. Fisher said.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development wants public housing to stop automatically excluding people with criminal records, Mr. Fisher added. Instead, he said housing officials should consider those people on case-by-case basis. He did not discuss whether a Trump administration might change this policy. Some convictions occurred decades ago and the convicted individual has lived lawfully since then. And for people recently released from prison, Mr. Fisher called attention to the importance of working with them “so they don’t fall back on the same problems they had before.” But he acknowledged, “Each housing authority has its own set of rules.”

The number of homeless clients currently listed by the county Department of Social Service’s rose from 80 in October to 92 in November. “When they turn off the heat outside, the numbers go up,” said Kary Jablonka, county commissioner of Social Services.

Kevin McDonald, administrator of the county Office for the Aging, mentioned a respite program involving homebound people who need 24-hour care. Upon request or arrangement, an aide will come to the residence to look after the patient for a couple of hours at a time, allowing the caregiver–often a spouse–to go out shopping or take a break.

The Office for the Aging is also considering vans that would take clients to shopping centers and Hudson’s Senior Center. Mr. McDonald said he has broached this matter with Mike Johnston, whose Johnston & Pulcher bus company provides once-weekly county-supported runs from rural areas od the county to stores and services in Greenport and Hudson. “I don’t want to duplicate” the existing runs, Mr. McDonald said.

In his report, Mr. Flaherty announced the arrival of the new van to transport veterans to important appointments, such as those at the Albany VA Hospital. “We have insurance and the license. I was here very early this morning to see it,” he said, thanking the committee for its role in procuring the vehicle.

Mr. Flaherty also announced that he has been asked to join the veterans advisory committee for incoming Congressman John Faso(R-19th) and that he has made arrangements to have software installed on his computer to expedite the transmission of applications for veterans’ benefits directly to Washington rather than going through a state office.

Mr. Flaherty said that he is still concerned about the ability of “any veteran counselor in New York” to browse his online files. “One veteran told me something in confidence, and a few days later somebody from another region called him about it,” he said.

And he reported interviewing students hoping for appointment to military academies. “It is really an experience, being able to sit down with these opening young men and women. I love it. To our military academies we send the best of the best.”

The next meeting of the Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee will take place in 2017.

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