The 2008 financial crisis devastated communities and stressed the rental economy. Years later, a program funded by the New York State Attorney General’s office is benefitting both landlords and tenants in the City of Elmira.
“This money was settlement money,” she said. “(The Attorney General’s office) had sued larger banks for practices during the foreclosure crisis. They decided they wanted to give the money back to communities that were impacted by those bad practices. They obviously want to do something around housing and put out a couple of programs that we have applied for.”
The Rental Rehab Grant Program was among them. According to Miran, some initial research around code enforcement was done: The data suggested there were a lot of rental properties that were not up to code. The priority was to focus on units occupied by low-income individuals, who are often the most vulnerable.
Speaking of rentals, Miran offered context about the city’s demographics and how that translates to housing situations.
“Roughly 50% of residents are renters,” she said. “It’s a post-industrial city and there was a lot of manufacturing in the 1950s-60s era here that left. Today, there are neighborhoods that are in better condition and higher income, but there are definitely some very deteriorated properties as well.”
The goal of the grant program is to help ensure units are safe and up to code. According to Miran, the program requires a 10% match from the landlord as a show of good faith, and sometimes the landlord can benefit from pairing participation in the Rental Rehab program with the lead paint remediation program.
“In some situations, their property can have an entirely new roof, new windows and new siding,” she said. “That can really be transformative for the neighborhood.”
The other component of the program is intensive case management, which is handled by a nonprofit group called the Economic Opportunity Program, a community action agency. This piece has been important because it helps at the individual level.
“There were still a lot of people falling through the cracks in terms of not paying their rent, not maintaining their properties and other basic challenges that resulted in them getting evicted,” Miran said. “So, the goal of case management is to work really closely with the tenants, but also with the landlord — to see what they could do to keep people in their homes instead of eviction.”
To that end, Miran said they have identified roughly 83 properties that are candidates for the grant program. They’re currently waiting on tenant verification of income.
In any case, she’s bullish on the program’s future and offered a few key points from which leaders in other cities and towns might benefit.
“I think for us, the planning piece was really important — getting our ducks in a row,” she said. “We did a lot of preliminary work, trying to make sure we’re actually meeting the needs of the community. I think that that was one of the things that helped us.”
Miran said you can’t discount the power of partnerships, either.
“The way the city structure is structured, community development is a separate department,” she said. “In some cities the code department is under that umbrella, but here we have two separate departments. I think that fact that we have a good working relationship with code enforcement has helped. We also have a really good working relationship with the health department.”
All of this has set the landlords and tenants up for success. Miran said Elmira’s goal for the future is to try to seek out additional funding to continue the program. “I think the response (from the landlord community) has been really positive,” she said. “I think that there’s a need for the program. If we seek additional HUD funding or receive American Rescue Plan funds, we could keep the program going for a little bit longer.”