Probe Finds ‘Squalor,’ Vermin and No Heat in New York City Homeless Program

  • U.S. 
  •  NEW YORK 

  • Probe Finds ‘Squalor,’ Vermin and No Heat in New York City Homeless Program

    A municipal-run program to relocate homeless shelter residents paid landlords a year of rent upfront despite the poor conditions for residents

    New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was working on improvements to a program to shelter homeless residents in homes. PHOTO: JUSTIN LANE/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK
    A New York City-run program to relocate homeless shelter residents outside the city placed some people in apartments without heat and infested with mice and vermin, according to a report released Thursday.
    The program, called the Special One-Time Assistance, is also at the center of a lawsuit filed Monday by the mayor of Newark, N.J., who alleged Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York City placed residents in dangerous apartments in his city.
    The probe by the Department of Investigation found employees didn’t properly check some apartments before placing residents in them. The city paid landlords and brokers a year of rent upfront and additional money despite the poor conditions for residents.
    “Some SOTA families placed in housing outside of New York City were living in squalor under the roofs of unscrupulous landlords, who collected tens of thousands of dollars in rental payments upfront from the city to provide these subpar conditions with little risk of accountability for their actions,” Margaret Garnett, the agency’s commissioner, said in a statement.
    The report said the landlords couldn’t be held accountable due to a flaw in the city’s paperwork.
    Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, said at an unrelated press conference Thursday that the program was designed to help the working poor who end up in shelters and that the city was already working on improvements.
    Some of the suggestions from the Department of Investigation report include requiring landlords to submit deed information and valid occupancy certificates, and requiring landlords to show properties are not in foreclosure.
    The initiative, which began on Aug. 31, 2017, provides one year of rent upfront anywhere in the U.S. in exchange for landlords accepting qualified tenants who lived in a Department of Homeless Services shelter.
    Tenants had to show they could make rent payments after the subsidy, and meet other qualifications, according to the city.
    A total 12,482 people, including 5,074 families, used the program through August 2019, at a cost of $89.12 million on rental payments from the city, according to a spokesman for the homeless services agency. Most of the tenants—65%—moved out of the city, mostly to nearby counties including Nassau and Westchester counties in New York, and Union and Essex counties in New Jersey. The rest stayed in New York City.
    The investigation found that although housing specialists were supposed to inspect properties in and outside of the city, many didn’t. They were also not properly trained to detect safety hazards inside the apartments if they went in, the report found.
    One Newark apartment where a family was moved to was only 42.6 degrees in the winter, which is well below the minimum standard of 68 degrees. The building was later found to have a defective boiler, according to the report.
    Many of the forms used in the program also had “defective language” that couldn’t be applied to properties outside of the city, and prevented the agency from holding these landlords and real estate brokers accountable for placing clients in bad housing. The language was specific to New York City, and eliminates these landlords from any criminal prosecution, the report found.
    Write to Katie Honan at

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