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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 25, 2010
Suburban poverty has grown
By Anne Hayden
ALBANY COUNTY Twelve percent of the people in Albany County live in poverty, according to a report released last month by the New York State Community Action Association.
To be classified as “impoverished,” a family of three must have an income of less than $18,310, said Denise Harlow, the chief executive officer of NYSCAA.
“That’s the standard set by the federal government. It doesn’t matter if you live in Guilderland, New York City, or the middle of Arkansas, that’s the number,” Harlow said. Altogether, 34,097 individuals, including 8,896 children, are attempting to live with that income in Albany County,
Though a large percentage of poor people live in the city of Albany, about 13,102 people live in poverty in towns and villages outside of the city.
“Research has shown that poverty in suburban areas has grown. In this recession, many families who had two incomes are down to one, and they are struggling,” said Harlow. Over 28-percent of the poor in Albany County are actually employed, according to NYSCAA’s report. The report was based on data from 2006 to 2008, before the recession hit.
Kathy Cloutier, the executive director of Albany Community Action Partnership, agreed with Harlow’s assessment. Cloutier said that, though the partnership’s center is located in Albany, between one-third and one-half of those it provides service to are from suburbs outside of the city. She said NYSCAA’s report helps the partnership tell its story.
“We can look at these numbers and say, ‘There is still so much work to be done,’” said Cloutier. She said the statistics can be used to support the center’s effort to bring new resources to the area.
The Albany Community Action Partnership is a federally funded, multi-service organization that provides Head Start programs and subsidized child care, employment services, free income tax help, and resources for other community programs.
“We would love to be fully accessible to everyone, and have centers located in every town; that’s our ultimate goal,” Cloutier said. The partnership’s most widespread program is the Head Start, which has 16 locations, including one in Berne.
Some towns have a federally funded Section 8 housing program, designed to give the elderly, disabled, and low-income population greater housing choices, explained Jim Mastrianni, the director of Guilderland’s program. Section 8 refers to part of the 1974 Housing and Community Development Act that first authorized the subsidy. The program is administered by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
A certain percentage of rent is subsidized for individuals participating in the Section 8 program, so that no more than 30 percent of annual income is spent on housing.
Mastrianni said it was up to landlords to decide whether or not to accept Section 8 housing, and that, in order to qualify in Guilderland, a two-person family must make below $29,650, and a three-person family must have an annual income less than $33,350. Guilderland provides Section 8 housing to people who qualify as “extremely low income” and “low income.”
“We worked with only ‘extremely low’ incomes for a while, but we weren’t able to reach enough people,” Mastrianni said. Currently, the Guilderland program provides subsidized housing for 92 families, and 122 others are on a waiting list that could last for more than two years. The town has a population of about 34,000.
Mastrianni said preference is given to members who live and work in the community, and to the elderly or disabled.
“It is unlikely that we will ever be able to assist single, able-bodied people, because we have to take the elderly or disabled first if they are anywhere on the list and there are always elderly on the list,” said Mastrianni. He also runs a very small Section 8 housing program in Knox, serving 16 people, with nine people on a more-than-two-year waiting list.
It would be hard to decrease the wait-list time, according to Mastrianni, because there has been no new federal funding for the program since the Clinton Administration. It just has not been a priority, he said.
The report released by NYSCAA has no call to action, Harlow said, but it should highlight the need for further resources in the community.
“These numbers are just unacceptable,” she said.