SCHENECTADY — Schenectady will provide $200,000 for residents requiring rental assistance after the city council unanimously approved a resolution during its Monday night meeting to give supplemental funding to the Schenectady Community Action Program (SCAP).
During the council’s Finance Committee meeting the prior week, City Council President Marion Porterfield proposed adding stipulations to the funding that would prioritize applicants who are facing homelessness due to loss of income during the pandemic.
The program funding is derived from Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding that the city received from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help alleviate resident housing issues during the pandemic.
The final funding resolution passed during Monday’s meeting does not place restrictions on SCAP in how the nonprofit organization will disperse the funds to the 52 city households that are projected to receive an average grant amount of $3,900.
Porterfield said following Monday’s meeting that a discussion with SCAP Chief Executive Officer Debra Schimpf in the lead-up to the vote satisfied her questions regarding the guidelines the organization would use to allocate the housing assistance funds.
According to SCAP guidelines, the agency will assess each applicant’s income, employment status and housing needs before approving each application, with the funds allocated directly to landlords, not residents.
“I just needed to have clarity on what their guidelines were,” Porterfield said following the Monday meeting. “Based on our conversation, their guidelines met what I had concerns about.”
During the meeting, Elise Martin, Director of Community Services at SCAP, said the organization works to prevent city residents from being evicted from their homes.
“We’re present in city eviction court every week to provide support for people facing eviction and when funds are available we aid in rental arrears,” she said. “We work very closely with area landlords, and though the [eviction] moratorium prevented our community from being flooded with homeless during the pandemic, it put considerable pressure on landlords dependent on rental income to live.”
Martin noted that residents living near or below the poverty line struggle to meet basic needs even during low inflation periods. Martin told the board that low-income residents are currently facing an increased risk of homelessness due to high inflation, with a 2022 SCAP community needs assessment concluding that 38% of households in the city are cost-burdened, with more than 30% of income going towards housing costs.
During Monday’s meeting, City Councilwoman Carmel Patrick asked for a roll call vote for the rental assistance resolution, with the measure garnering a 7-0 vote from the council. Following the May 15 committee meeting, Patrick said she would vote against a funding resolution that included restrictions, which the final legislation did not include.
“I called for the roll call vote on this resolution because I’m still upset about what happened at last week’s committee meeting,” Patrick said during the meeting. “SCAP clearly has the expertise to determine how to best use this funding to prevent homelessness. Why would we think we know better than they do? Why should we micromanage an organization that for decades has been in the trenches?”
“Asking questions shouldn’t upset any council members because that’s part of what we do here,” Porterfield replied during the meeting. “As funders, we should be asking questions about how we’re spending our funding.”
Following the Monday meeting, Patrick said that the city should empower SCAP to disperse the rental funds according to the group’s guidelines.
“They did not put any restrictions into the resolution,” Patrick said. “My concern is that it was too much. It wasn’t about responsible stewardship of $200,000, it was a mistrust of SCAP’s ability to do the job on a program that they’ve already been doing. We didn’t have to go through the turmoil that we went through last week when in fact SCAP absolutely had guidelines and they’re serving people who are about a step away from homelessness.”
During the May 15 committee meeting, Porterfield contended that those who could not financially meet their rental obligations needed to be prioritized first, noting that she had heard concerns from landlords regarding residents who had the means to pay their rent but chose not to.
“I don’t think it’s our role to judge the worthiness of individuals that SCAP serves to receive this funding assistance,” City Councilwoman Doreen Ditoro said during Monday night’s meeting. “Let’s let SCAP do their jobs using the guidelines they have in place and get this funding to them as soon as possible.”
Contact Ted Remsnyder at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @TedRemsnyder.