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Rip Van Winkle Fire Prompts Maloney Call For New Legislation

The 16-story Rip Van Winkle apartment building in Poughkeepsie. Photo Credit:
U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney Photo Credit: File

After a fire at the 16-story Rip Van Winkle affordable housing complex in Poughkeepsie left more than 300 residents without housing, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney announced legislation to ensure low income tenants are re-housed if they’re unable to return home.

The Affordable Housing Protection Act would direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to require the establishment of "pass-through leases" in the event that tenants are displaced from their federally-subsidized housing.

“We’re lucky that the community rallied around the Rip Van Winkle residents after the fire, but neither HUD nor PK Management were under any legal obligation to help – and that has to change,” Maloney said. “We’ve already got 'guidance' on this, but housing should be a guarantee not a gamble – families shouldn’t be left out in the cold because of a disaster.”

“The fear of the unknown certainly is stressful enough when you have a roof over your head, but when you know that you’ve got to leave your apartment with your children and not really knowing where you may go, it’s definitely worse,” said Poughkeepsie Mayor Rob Rolison. “People should know that they'll have a place to go – that they are going to be taken care of and they don’t have to worry about the financial constraints.”

After the Rip Van Winkle fire, tenants were initially told they may have to wait up to two months before they could return to the complex while repairs were made to electrical, heating and water systems. In the meantime, neither HUD nor the management company were required to find or fund provisional housing for tenants.

The Midhudson Civic Center established a temporary shelter with assistance from the Red Cross for seven days. Rolison and Maloney then collaborated with PK Management to ensure that tenants received hotel vouchers.

The bill is unlikely to create new costs to taxpayers, Maloney said, as it relies on funds that have already been appropriated to HUD. The bill also would guarantee that there is a mechanism in place to rapidly re-house affordable housing residents in the event of natural disasters like hurricanes.

Working with Rolison, Maloney announced that more than 300 tenants had returned to their homes within three weeks of the fire.

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