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Supervisors look to make social services housing safer

Essex County Board of Supervisors

Essex County Board of Supervisors Photo by Keith Lobdell.

— Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava believes there must be a way to make sure the county is paying for quality housing for those in need.

During the July 8 Human Services Committee meeting, Scozzafava again brought up the topic of having any apartment rented out to those using financial assistance from the county being required to have a certificate of occupancy.

“I am just saying if they could notify the town when they are going to be renting a place and then we will take it from there,” Scozzafava said. “I do not feel that it puts that much of a burden on social services. If you can call the town and say we are looking at renting out a certain place, can you go in and say that we need to have a certificate of occupancy.”

Social Services Director John O’Neill said his department cannot make those requests because of privacy laws. He also said that the state allowances make it hard at times to find higher quality housing.

“Unfortunately, with the shelter allowances that the state pays, usually the only places that people can afford are in pretty low condition and we cannot do anything about that,” O’Neill said. “Even if we could do this, the certificate of occupancy is a local law and that does not supersede the state law. The only authority social services has is if the landlord wants a security agreement. Then we can go in and do an aesthetic survey but nothing more than that.”

Scozzafava said that making sure an apartment is safe for tenants is part of state law.

“We all have local laws and we are all required by state law to obey the state fire and building laws,” he said. “I just do not understand why the county cannot send in a code enforcement officer. I am not concerned with the aesthetics I am more concerned with the safety.”

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