SULLIVAN COUNTY — When the house burned at the corner of Route 42 and Fraser Road in Kiamesha Lake on August 2, the Monticello fire department and multiple others responded, rescued people …
SULLIVAN COUNTY — When the house burned at the corner of Route 42 and Fraser Road in Kiamesha Lake on August 2, the Monticello fire department and multiple others responded, rescued people inside and got the fire under control.
But the blaze still left 14 residents homeless.
In times past, that might not have been a problem. Once, apartments were available, providing affordable housing for people who needed it.
“There’s no housing here,” said Kathy Kreiter, director and program administrator for the Sullivan County Federation for the Homeless. If you’re the victim of a disaster, like a house fire, “there’s no place to go” long term.
The federation doesn’t just negotiate the housing minefield for people who’ve lost a place to live because they can’t afford the rent anymore, or because they got evicted.
There are people who are unhoused because they’ve lost everything.
In the Kiamesha fire, the Red Cross got involved. They put people up in a motel for a few nights, and made sure they’re fed and cared for.
Those who need more help are referred to the county’s health and family services department, said commissioner John Liddle.
In an interview the day after the fire, Liddle explained what was happening. “As of 2 p.m. today, we are supporting nine cases—all are single males with the exception of a couple with a young child,” he said, “so we are serving a total of 11 displaced persons.”
The situation goes beyond traumatized people in need of housing. Working people and the disabled are in need of homes too.
Many people rely on a fixed income, Kreiter said. “They need to depend on what they get—if they get $700 or $800 a month, how are they going to pay $1,200 a month for rent?”
It might actually be worse. Realtor.com lists 14 houses and apartments for rent, with prices ranging from $795 to $6,000 a month. The average is $2,459/month.
A search for “cheap apartments in Sullivan County, NY” turned up four, ranging from $311 to $1,270.
So who is looking for housing?
Kreiter talked about people who never received unemployment benefits after lockdown hit. Many of them were freelancers, working for themselves. Some, she said, may have just had an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) number, rather than a Social Security number. The ITIN number is only available for certain resident and non-resident aliens and their families, according to the IRS; they don’t qualify for unemployment.
Others were cobbling together part-time jobs, she said, none of which had benefits, or were qualified for unemployment.
Sullivan County is working on solutions. “We’re working on a high-priority project with the Land Bank right now to do some modest renovations to an apartment home in Monticello, because it has the potential to yield us four units to place families,” Liddle said. “The fact that we’re working hard to open up four units gives you a sense of how thin the margins are for us right now.”
And at the federation, they’ve just landed a contract to implement the Excluded Workers Fund (EWF).“The EWF gives financial help to New Yorkers who lost income during the pandemic and could not get unemployment, pandemic, or other federal relief benefits,” Kreiter said. Her group will explain the program and help people apply.
Meanwhile, she’s encouraging landlords with spaces to rent affordably to get in touch.
“There’s a huge housing shortage and there are a lot of folks who are going to have a problem” especially when the eviction moratorium expires, Kreiter said.
When asked what will happen, Kreiter said, “Even if they had a security deposit, there’s no place for them to go.”