Housing voucher program unchanged; 78 on waiting list

Niskayuna Town HallNiskayuna Town Hall

By Kristin Schultz

Gazette Reporter

To help families maintain stable housing situations, the federal government subsidizes the monthly rent payments for qualifying families.

Formerly known as Section 8, the current program — Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) — has been administered on behalf of the town of Niskayuna by Joseph E. Mastrianni Inc. since 1985.

Jim Mastrianni, president of JEM, has presented the Town Board with an update on the program. Essentially federal funding has not changed in over 30 years, nearly 80 families are on waiting lists to move into Niskayuna and a family who is placed on a waiting list today will likely wait for more than four years to obtain a place to live in the town.

This news comes as the planning board has recently or will soon consider at least three separate apartment proposals, with some developers referring to their projects as “luxury apartments.”

Planning Board members have expressed concern over the perceived lack of affordable housing in the town.

The HCV Program provides assistance to disabled, elderly and low-income families by paying a direct subsidy to landlords who accept HCV vouchers. Participants find an apartment or home and the landlord is paid the full asking rent through a combination of the participant’s income and the government subsidy.

In Niskayuna, the average subsidy is $545 per month. The average participant earns $1,346 gross per month. According to census information, the average asking rental price in town is $1,054.

There are currently 40 families in the program with 35 of those families being elderly or disabled and five who qualified based on income alone.

Since families can located at any property whose landlord agrees to take the voucher, there is not a typical unit or area of town in which program participants live.

“The idea is that participants go into the open market and rent a unit that anyone else would rent,” said Mastrianni. “There is no such thing as an HCV property. It could be an apartment, single family home, townhouse. Somebody could be living next door to you and you’d never know they’re in the program.”

The amount of vouchers is determined by funding that is determined by the federal government during the budgeting process. Adjusting for inflation and other factors, there has been essentially no change in the amount of assistance for Niskayuna. This year, the town was allocated around $300,000.

Families in the HCV can also participate in the Family Self-Sufficiency program, which works to identify barriers to self-sufficiency, set and track goals, and connect participants with community resources.

Mastrianni told the board the goal is to remove barriers and help people get off welfare.

There are currently six families in the FSS program with four of them in the part of the program that focuses on saving money for the future.

“This is challenging work,” Mastrianni told the board. “I appreciate you using us to provide the service.”