Rokosz Most: In regard to the placement of people seeking temporary emergency housing, how does the Ulster County Department of Social Services (DSS) and the non-profit Family of Woodstock share duties getting individuals emergency housing?
Michael Iapoce: Family of Woodstock is our emergency after-hours housing provider, They will place clients who present as emergency homeless after-hours at different motels that they utilize as well as the shelters. [The DSS] also makes placements for clients that we’re engaging with, but only during regular business hours.
RM: Are the rates paid to the motels by DSS and Family of Woodstock the same? For the Rodeway Inn, for instance, Family of Woodstock’s executive director Michael Berg indicated that Family pays $100 on the weekdays, $130 on the weekends. Does the county pay more or less than that?
MI: The rates can fluctuate. If we call to make a reservation tonight, for instance, and based on vacancies and availability we can make that reservation for seven days or ten days. It’s also seasonal. So like any motel in the market, they might adjust their rates depending on demand and availability. We have ongoing dialogues with all of the motels that we use here in Ulster County.
RM: Is there a ballpark rate the DSS pays Rodeway Inn for temporarily housing clients experiencing homelessness? I think there was the impression among some legislators that that the motel properties were suppressing room availability until after-hours time to intentionally be kind of courting Family of Woodstock. The theory was that they get more money that way.
MI: Generally, the range that we end up paying at the Rodeway Inn is between $90 and $120. Based on the information that Michael [Berg] provided you, we’re paying comparable rates. It depends on how we arrive at making the reservation. I think there are some dynamics in there that just might not occur to the average person.
We have to react to what’s available in the market. Sometimes we make the reservations by booking rooms that they have available online because they may make a block of rooms available through online providers. So sometimes there’s an added charge. That’s fairly typical practice for most motels. And here in Ulster County — which I’m sure you’re aware of, with the tourism industry, the film industry, construction — sometimes motels call up and say that you’re not going to have any rooms available for the month of June, that we rented a block of rooms to HBO.
RM: How many properties throughout the county are cooperating to provide rooms for emergency temporary housing?
MI: Throughout the entire county, currently we’re using a total of 20 different motels, and we have two shelters and overall expenditures for our emergency homeless programs, So $6,570, 337 was the amount of money spent in 2022 on emergency housing. A common misconception is that, you know, all homeless individuals and families are placed in one place. And that’s not accurate.
Because of the size of our county covers a large geographic area, this is much larger-scale program, and the needs are much larger-scale and the services are provided throughout the county. We try to make placements for clients that are in close proximity to the community where they may have become homeless, or where they work or their children go to school.
RM: How does the DSS keep an eye then on the properties to make sure the rooms are up to code and health-wise that the motel is doing what it should be doing?
MI: The properties that we make placements at, they all have to have a valid certificate of occupancy in full force and effect. Certificates of occupancy are issued by the municipality where the motel is located. The Rodeway Inn, for instance, is in the Town of Ulster. The Town of Ulster has responsibility and authority over the physical structure, and would be responsible for issuing a building permit or conducting inspections. Authority and jurisdiction for water and sewer, reside with the Ulster County Department of Health, and so the DOH is the government agency that’s responsible for issuing operating permits for motels and hotels.
RM: How does the DDS keep track of sex offenders that might end up in these hotels along with families?
MI: We would never place anybody that’s a registered sex offender at a location that wouldn’t be in compliance with their sex-offender status, whether that’s derived that pursuant to their parole or probation requirements.
RM: What does that mean?
MI: Any person who presents as homeless who also has sex offender status is placed at a location that ensures that they’re in compliance with that status.
RM: What I mean, then, is it possible that a person with this status could be in the same hotel as a mother and child?
MI: It’s not possible that we would place that person [there]. There could be someone who is a registered sex offender who makes a reservation at a motel on their own. We don’t have any control over that. An emergency homeless client who has disclosed to us their sex-offender status, we will absolutely ensure that they’re not placed at a location that’s not consistent with the terms and conditions of their sex-offender status.
RM: I just wonder how close you know, if a person becomes housing, insecure, homeless. They don’t have a job. They’re kind of roaming around. I wonder how the police are keeping track, because if they don’t announce it to you, then that becomes really complicated
MI: The Department of Community Corrections is aware of and monitors any individual who has a sex-offender status. Not to say that someone with sex-offender status might not violate their terms, but they are being monitored. But again, that’s not within the DSS’s jurisdiction.
RM: So when we’re talking about sex offenders or even if it’s prostitution at the motel, that’s crime. The cops are dealing with that. The DSS is not responsible for that?
MI: Obviously, if there are any incidents of that nature, law enforcement would be contacted. That’s part of their responsibility.
RM: Because of New York State housing laws, lodgers are being kicked out at 21 days. Can you talk about that?
MI: My understanding is the statute essentially provides that when an individual has been at a motel for more than 30 days, they arrive at having status as a tenant. Now, the reality is that hotels clearly may not want to arrive at being in a landlord-tenant relationship with their guests. That’s not the business that they’re generally engaged in, and this is not supposed to be permanent, long term housing. So the fact that the motels and hotels are reluctant to extend their guests reservation beyond the 30 days.
I think is what has resulted in the 21 days being a time frame that a lot of the motels utilize. It creates a little bit of a cushion if someone ends up needing a couple of extra days, there’s still a few days away from the 30.
RM: Often the people have to go back to DSS, and sometimes arrive back at the very same hotel. Do you have an opinion on what can be done about this?
MI: It’s not ideal. You know, we certainly have to react to it. And when we have clients that are approaching that time frame, we have to accommodate them by relocating them. And that can be disruptive.
I think it would be preferable if there could be some sort of legislation contemplated that created an exception, [that] could potentially be implemented to say that, if it’s the emergency housing clients, and in our population those are who I’m obviously most focused on, to the degree that an exception might provide that if the reservation of an individual at a motel extends beyond 30 days, if they’re there as a result of an emergency housing placement, they don’t become a tenant.
Maybe if those rights as a tenant and landlord are not triggered, that could eliminate that time frame.
RM: Yeah, it’s a common-sense solution. I guess we’re just waiting for state legislation to make that exception.
MI: That’s typically how a lot of legislation is arrived at. Hopefully, our system is able to react to changes that are happening in a sensible way. Sometimes it takes a little bit more time. But I think frequently we do arrive there, and I think that could be a potential solution.