CIVIC CENTER — The city's Human Resources Administration failed to properly monitor vendors who provide housing for people with HIV/AIDS — leaving it to pay $31,000 for rent charges for nearly two dozen clients who had died, according to an audit from Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The audit of HIV/AIDS Services Administration, also known as HASA, comes as the city and state prepares to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into a plan to end HIV/AIDS by 2020. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on World AIDS Day a plan to expand HASA to 7,300 additional New Yorkers by 2020.
Stringer's audit found that HRA, which oversaw 93 vendors that provided more than 7,000 housing units, didn't know how many units they actually had.
For example, HRA noted inspecting a total of 102 units for one vendor that only provided 75 units.
Just over half of units in a sample group were inspected annually, as required. Vendors were also allowed to skirt basic provisions of their contracts such as providing security, having substance abuse counselors on site and providing staff with first aid training.
"For years advocates have fought to ensure that New Yorkers with HIV and AIDS get the support, services and housing that they desperately need. What we found is a system that wasn't being effectively managed from top to bottom which created a very real opportunity for New Yorkers to be put at risk," Stringer said.
"HRA had no know way to know if services were being delivered to the right people at the right time," he added.
HRA Commissioner Steven Banks appeared with Stringer at the press conference announcing the audit's findings. Banks has been in the news lately as de Blasio has appointed him to lead a 90-day review of how the city delivers services to the homeless.
Stringer praised Banks' efforts to reform the agency.
"Many of the reforms being implemented today are what we recommended and some go beyond the scope of our audit recommendations," Stringer said. "This is how government is supposed to work."
Banks acknowledged the problems his agency has had with managing the HASA program.
"When I came to HRA in April 2014, I knew, having sued the agency for 30 years, that there was a need for reforms in many areas of the agency," said Banks who previously headed the Legal Aid Society.
While Banks placed most of the blame for the problems on the previous administration, the audit covers the period from July 1, 2012 through April 16, 2014. De Blasio took office in January 2014.
Banks said that he found uncompleted HASA audits from 2013 when he took over the agency. Those audits have now been completed. HRA has also create a special unit to handle contract management to make sure its vendors are in compliance.
"I...take responsibility for the fact that in some cases we can't move fast enough to outrun problems that we inherited," Banks said. "I think there's an understanding that to make these kind of substantial changes, they don't happen overnight."
Banks said the money was paid for dead clients' rent because there were problems in getting access to units of the deceased and that the agency wanted to "act in a sensitive way."
HRA has been able to get $8,600 returned, he said.
A new policy has been put in place to deal with the death of clients and Banks said the reforms recommended by Stringer and his agency will be in place before the expansion of HASA services takes effect.
"He inherited one of the largest bureaucracies in the city and he has implemented a reform agenda," Stringer said. "The fact that he stands here today signals his ownership and his expertise in running this agency."