Democratic New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney was in Poughkeepsie Monday to announce legislation to ensure low-income tenants have alternate housing in the event of an emergency. Maloney and the city’s mayor say a recent occurrence at an affordable housing complex in Poughkeepsie is an example of why such a bill is needed.
A late October fire at Poughkeepsie’s Rip Van Winkle House displaced more than 300 residents, many of whom stayed with relatives. Others went to a temporary shelter run by the American Red Cross at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center. Congressman Maloney represents the 18th District, which includes the City of Poughkeepsie.
“The point is is we have to protect the people who are the most vulnerable when disaster strikes and it’s not their fault,” says Maloney.
He says that after the Rip Van Winkle fire, tenants were initially told they may have to wait up to two months before they could return to the complex while repairs were made to heating and water systems. And while tenants were able to return within three weeks of the fire, Maloney says neither the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development nor management of the housing complex was under legal obligation to secure temporary housing. Maloney wants to change this.
“And so what my legislation would do, which is called the Affordable Housing Protection Act, would simply codify the right of these tenants to have temporary housing and to have that paid for in the form of a pass-through lease,” Maloney says. “This wouldn’t come at any additional cost to the taxpayer because there’s current authority in existing law to do this with the savings that are achieved because the current landlord is not paid during the vacancy.”
“It’s actually consistent with existing Housing and Urban Development guidance, but it’s not the law,” Maloney says. “So what my bill does is simply make it the law.”
Maloney had worked with Republican Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison to address issues at the Rip Van Winkle housing complex, both post-fire and with subsequent heating issues during severe cold weather. Rolison says Maloney’s legislation will help low-income residents in cities like Poughkeepsie.
“It’s a matter of feeling okay about where you live, not only the roof above your head now but what if something does happen. And in a world of aging infrastructure, you look at the infrastructure that was in that particular building, it was getting old and, after that fire, it failed. And that can happen again in other places,” Rolison says. “And people should know that they’ll have a place to go, that they’re going to be taken care of, and they don’t have to worry about the financial constraints that they may have that are going to give them that roof over their head.”
Ann Finney is chair of the City of Poughkeepsie Common Council. She has a suggestion for the legislation.
“I would ask the congressman to consider, in addition to an inventory of available apartments, to consider the possibility of cash payments through the local HUD administrative offices so that tenants can participate in their own solutions,” Finney says. “It’s not really enough to know that someplace there might be an apartment available for you. Maybe you just want to move in with your relatives and rent a car for the duration.”
Maloney said he would consult with his staff and consider Finney’s idea. And though pointing to the fire at the Rip Van Winkle housing as a reason for his legislation, he says plenty of other residents in his district and the state would benefit.
“I mean any place with Section 8 housing, affordable housing, that includes a lot of places in my district, obviously the City of Newburgh, other cities in my district like Middletown as well,” says Maloney. “But, of course, the state of New York and the region that we’re in for HUD is one that, believe or not, has seen other examples of where tenants were really left on their own after events that were completely out of their control and no fault of their own.”
The bill would require the secretary of HUD to determine who should be responsible for establishing the lease arrangements, the timeframe for seeking temporary housing and best practices in the event that temporary housing is unavailable.