DAVID N. DINKINS MUNICIPAL BUILDING — The Department of Homeless Services is failing homeless families and children by placing them in roach and rat infested residences, according to an audit issued Monday.
Comptroller Scott Stringer found that 53 percent of inspected apartments in homeless shelters had rodent and roach infestation and 87 percent of units had serious safety violations such as mold, no smoke detectors and blocked fire escapes.
The "obscene" conditions are allowed to exist, Stringer said, because shelters are allowed to "self-monitor" their own conditions and DHS does not have enough staff to provide adequate oversight.
DHS also had only verbal contracts with 64 of 155 family shelter locations, the audit found. And the agency has failed to meet its own standards of helping people transition from shelter to permanent housing.
"These families live a daily nightmare surrounded by peeling paint, feeling the chill from broken windows and sharing space with rodents, roaches and other vermin," Stringer said during a press conference Monday at his office.
"Many of them went to bed last night in dangerous, unprotected buildings. And when they woke up this morning, DHS still had no plan in place for getting them out of the shelter system and into permanent housing," he added.
DHS is "horribly understaffed" to properly manage its shelters, Stringer said. The audit found that 14 DHS program analysts are assigned to oversee social services at 155 shelters housing 12,500 families.
The analysts told auditors that because of their large caseload, 11 shelters and 900 families per analyst, they had to rely on the shelter facilities themselves to report compliance with city standards and the need for repairs.
"Without oversight, our city has no idea whether shelters are safe, clean and appropriate for families and young children," Stringer said.
The audit found that DHS only followed up on six of 29 corrective action plans and that more than half of those plans were anywhere from 10 to 60 days late.
Stringer's report also found a lack of adequate security, including one site that had one security guard for 300 families scattered in 16 buildings. DHS also wasn't following its own procedures to transition families into permanent housing, Stringer found.
The comptroller said he was "ashamed" of the "deplorable" and "filthy" conditions he found kids living in.
"We are talking about obscene living conditions right here in New York, one of the world's richest cities. And we're talking about children," Stringer said.
The audit comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio is facing increasing scrutiny over his management of the city's homelessness crisis.
The current number of people in shelters is just over 58,000, down slightly from a record high of 59,000 last December. The number of people in shelter today includes more than 23,000 children. There were 53,000 people in shelter when de Blasio took office in January 2014.
Last week, Gilbert Taylor, the DHS commissioner, resigned, making him the second top city official overseeing homelessness to step down in less than four months.
The mayor announced that Human Resources Administration commissioner Steven Banks would launch a study on the way the city delivers homeless services. De Blasio spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh said that Taylor's resignation had nothing to do with Stringer's audit and that he was "leaving to pursue other opportunities."
The mayor, speaking at an event Monday to highlight the accomplishments of his tenure, admitted the shelters were not in good shape.
"We need to fix the quality of the shelters we have, which bluntly, were left in poor shape for many years," de Blasio said. He did not address the audit in detail.
In a statement, HRA Commissioner Steven Banks did not dispute the audit's findings.
"As part of the comprehensive operational review just announced by Mayor de Blasio, we will carefully consider the issues raised in the audit and other reviews of the department’s operations so that we can continue to improve shelter conditions and safety and help more individuals exit shelter as quickly as possible," Banks said.
Banks said the city created a "shelter repair squad" in May which had cleared 12,000 building violations. The city has also relaunched its rental assistance program to help people exit shelters.
DHS will hire more staff in the next two months—an exact number was not given—and has already hired an additional 260 security officers. The agency now has 94 shelter contracts in place with 12 additional ones pending.
The mayor also announced a plan last week called HOME-STAT to track the city's 4,000 street homeless and help them into permanent housing. Some homelessness advocates have criticized the plan as not doing enough to address the real issue, a lack of permanent affordable housing.
De Blasio said Monday that his administration is working hard on the homelessness issue. The mayor says 22,000 families have left shelter since he took office and he recently announced a $2.6 billion plan to build 15,000 units of supportive housing over the next 15 years.
But the city is dealing with an entrenched issue, the mayor warned.
"I'm trying to be blunt with the people of New York City. This problem is not going away overnight," de Blasio said.
Stringer said the city is capable of doing better. He called on de Blasio to hire a deputy mayor with a "bold vision" to fix the problems.
"We may not be able to solve homelessness overnight but we can damn well fix leaky roofs and repair broken doors," he said.