BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—A few dozen landlords squeezed into a room at Elmira City Hall on Wednesday to learn about the city’s new rental rehabilitation grant program.
The city received $1 million from the New York State Attorney General’s office in 2020 to address some of the root causes of homelessness. City officials will use the money to help landlords remedy health and safety issues at their properties, as well as support tenants who are at risk of losing their home.
“There hasn’t ever been anything to really help the current properties where families are living in really subpar housing, and are facing health risks,” said Emma Miran, Elmira’s director of Community Development.
Miran said many people in the city struggle to find quality affordable housing. That has left them with unsafe options that, in some cases, tenants are later forced to move out after code enforcement officers condemn the property due to dangerous conditions.
The city’s rental rehabilitation program is intended to protect tenants before that can happen by providing their landlords with money to fix potential code violations.
Landlords can receive up to $10,000 for eligible housing units. The money may be used for necessary repairs, like lead-paint removal in homes with young children.
“Unfortunately, we kind of ignore it because they’re already there. They’re already living there,” Miran said. “We don’t even think about the fact that there are children testing positive for lead in an existing property, which really shouldn’t be happening in the city.”
Eligible properties must already house residents who earn at or below 80% of the area median income. For a three-person household in Elmira, that is no more than $54,000 annually.
As part of the application process, the city’s code enforcement division will inspect eligible properties. The Community Development Department will help landlords determine which issues to prioritize for funding, including those related to code violations found during the inspection.
“It could be for an elderly family, maybe the property needs new stairs, or it needs a porch repaired,” Miran said. “If that is creating a situation where that individual can’t live in the property anymore, then that would be eligible for the grant.”
Tenants who are relocated while repairs occur must then be moved back into the home, and rent must be kept at or below fair-market rate for five years.
Together with Enterprise Community Partners, Attorney General Leticia James allocated money for displacement prevention to 10 cities statewide, including Binghamton and Ithaca.
Elmira will use $600,000 of its allotment to fund rehabilitation projects. The remaining $400,000 will go to hire anti-displacement case managers through the Economic Opportunity Program of Chemung and Schuyler Counties. Case managers will work with tenants to find other services and address other financial, economic and social causes of homelessness.
The program will work in conjunction with Empower Financial Credit Union.
“We will work with them if the tenant is interested in learning more about budgeting or financing, or would like to put some money away for a rainy day,” said Toni Ruocco, Anti-Displacement Supervisor at the Economic Opportunity Program. “So we’re all about making community referrals and connecting people to helping resources.”
AJ Bami was among the landlords who attended the information session at City Hall. He said many landlords are strapped for cash as construction costs soar and tenants remain behind on rent.
“A lot of tenants over the last couple of years were not very good with making their payments on time,” Bami said. “So it’s good to see a program that hopefully, can assist landlords in making and providing better accommodations.”
The city will accept applications on a rolling basis.