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LOCKPORT – Niagara County legislators have ordered that welfare recipients’ shelter allowances be paid directly to landlords, effective June 1.

Now it’s time for the other side of the issue to receive some attention, according to Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls.

“Now they’ve got their rent. The second phase of this thing would be to inspect them,” said Virtuoso, who also is Niagara Falls’ chief building inspector.

He and his Democratic colleagues from the Falls, Owen T. Steed and Jason A. Zona, have introduced a resolution for Tuesday’s Legislature meeting to set up a committee to study how to mandate inspections of rental property before welfare clients move into them.

It would be similar to requirements implemented by the federal government in its Section 8 leased housing program.

During the debate over shelter allowances, Steed, who cast the only vote against direct payments to landlords, and other welfare advocates argued that withholding rent is the client’s only leverage against poor conditions in the apartments they sometimes find themselves in.

Virtuoso said if rental properties are inspected before they are rented to welfare clients, the county could bar anyone from moving in until any code violations are repaired.

Virtuoso also said the inspection would show exactly what kind of shape the property was in before the tenants moved in, so any damage would clearly be the tenants’ fault.

“It’ll be a lot better quality of life for the welfare recipients and for the landlord,” Virtuoso said.

The question is, who would do the inspections? The county abolished its code enforcement office more than a decade ago.

“We’d either have to hire someone or farm it out to the municipalities,” Virtuoso said. But he said Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino told him that the county would have to pay only 25 percent of the cost, and the state would pick up the rest.

The Democrats’ resolution says the issue of how to address the problem would be studied by a committee including Virtuoso; Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport; Community Services Committee Chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport; County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz; and County Attorney Claude A. Joerg. A report would be due by Sept. 2.

Virtuoso said the inspections might turn up welfare fraud by detecting instances where the recipient lied about the number of people in a household.

But he hopes the county could also save money by having fewer welfare recipients evicted or otherwise vacating apartments. The county then has to come up with emergency shelter grants for them.

“It could save us a ton of money on move-out expenses,” Virtuoso said.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com