OSWEGO – The Oswego County Legislature had a lengthy debate Thursday night regarding a plan which will help ensure safe housing opportunities for renters in the city of Oswego.
Much of the debate centered on who would enforce the plan and what it would cost county taxpayers.
In the end, the resolution was approved 22-1-2. Marie Schadt cast the lone nay vote and legislators John Martino and Shane Broadwell were excused.
At Monday’s Common Council meeting, the mayor was unanimously authorized to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the city of Oswego and county of Oswego, which will create a partnership between the city of Oswego Department of Code Enforcement and Oswego County Department of Social Services.
It will ensure that any applicant for housing through Oswego County DSS is placed in a property in the city that is compliant with all local laws and regulations, including the possession of a valid city of Oswego rental permit, Mayor Billy Barlow explained.
DSS employees will have access to the city’s MUNICITY software and will use it to verify the properties under consideration are code compliant, have a valid rental permit and are current on city taxes.
“I’m going to support this. I think this is something that’s long over due,” Legislator Jim Karasek said Thursday night.
Legislator Schadt questioned if the housing would be for locals or someone from out of town.
“It would be for anyone seeking shelter from DSS (in the city of Oswego),” explained Department of Social Services Commissioner Stacy Alvord.
“I’m going to support this. It’s a tool for us, no matter where the people come from, they need housing. We have to think about the safety of the people that are going into these houses,” Legislator Richard Kline said. “We’ve all heard the horror stories. This is a way of solving some of the horror stories. It also increases the value of our city. (Mayor) Billy Barlow and the council are working on increasing the value of the city and making it safe; it’s good for the people. Keep in mind, most of these people are vulnerable and we have a responsibility to them.”
Legislator Nate Emmons, City of Oswego Section 8 Rental Assistance Program Director, shared some background as to how the agreement would work.
The county will be able, in real time, to see if a property has a valid rental permit and is safe, he told the legislature. It’s the same process they use for the Section 8 program in the city, he added.
If you allow sub-standard housing, “you’re enabling slumlorads in some cases and creating problems in communities,: Legislator Shawn Doyle said.
“Will this program guarantee only the amount of people said to be living in the dwelling will live there?” Schadt asked.
It only provides assistance to ensure people get placed in safe housing, Legislator Roy Reehil, Human Services Committee Chairman, said.
“I’m really not all set with it. I think the taxpayers have had it. The baby daddies are in with the mommies and there’s no policing. I think it’s a ridiculous situation,” Schadt said.
“On the surface, I agree with this. But you have to look a bit deeper than the tip of the iceberg. As Legislator Schadt said, you have any number of people living in these houses. Do we have the authority to go in there and say, ‘wait a second, you are getting mail here and living here, therefore you shouldn’t be receiving Social Services payments if there are more than the number of people who are supposed to be living here’? It’s getting to the point where we have to start looking for something locally that we can do to help police the neighborhoods,” Legislator Frank Castiglia said.
After people get into a house, “there is no policing about what the apartment or house looks like,” he added. “We have to look beyond this from now on.”
“Under federal guidelines, we have our own inspection process that we have to maintain and follow. To arbitrarily say that there is no enforcement is actually false,” Emmons pointed out. “There’s plenty of enforcement that takes place on a yearly, monthly basis.”
“This MOU isn’t about enforcement. It’s about the city implementing a code process to get people safe housing,” Reehil pointed out. “The landlord will have an incentive to keep his place nice. So we’re going to have better landlords. I think this is actually is a model that we need to look at for other places in the county. This provides for more safety for people. I don’t think this is about enforcement; but I think we’re going to get enforcement as a result of it.”
As the person who administers the (county) housing assistance program for Section 8, David Turner said the state and federal government have only “very minimal standards for housing quality.”
“The only way we can try to enforce something that’s stricter …our hands are tied – unless the community has things like rental permits and good strong code enforcement,” he said.
By working with the city the way the county is, that raises the standard of housing in that local community, he explained.
“So, if you really care about that, I urge you to talk about it with the towns and villages that you represent. I urge you to talk about it while you’re on the campaign trail. If you think this is an important issue, there is a way to make it better. But, it has to start at the local level,” he told the legislators. “You folks, in your positions can help make that happen.”