BUSHWICK — The city's Department of Homeless Services announced Thursday that it was severing some contracts with the nonprofit that operated a shelter apartment where two young girls were killed by a malfunctioning radiator.
The agency said in a press release that it would terminate all hotel and cluster-site shelter contracts with Bushwick Economic Development Corporation, or BEDCO, a decades-old Brooklyn-based nonprofit that has won hundreds of millions of dollars in city funding.
Scylee Vayoh Amrose, 1, and Ibanez Ambrose, 2, were killed by a radiator spewing steam inside a cluster-site shelter at a Bronx apartment that BEDCO managed. Cluster sites are where homeless families are housed in apartment units in privately owned buildings.
"As part of the 90-day review of homeless services, we are aggressively reforming decades-old policies and practices, including ending relationships with providers who have had a history of serious shelter conditions or other issues,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks.
BEDCO currently manages 33 cluster site buildings and 11 commercial hotels in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.
Homeless Services said that it will find a new nonprofit to take over those cluster-site and hotel shelter contracts. However, BEDCO will continue to operate eight traditional shelters.
Homeless Services spokeswoman Lauren Gray said her agency will keep reviewing the nonprofit's contracts to run the eight shelters.
The city's decision to cut some contracts comes after a series of DNAinfo New York stories that detailed how high-ranking officials at Homeless Services had been repeatedly warned over the past few years that BEDCO didn't pay rent to landlords who leased it shelters, failed to correct housing code violations and endangered the lives of homeless families placed in their care.
DNAinfo New York also reported that BEDCO failed to disclose to the city that it was a tax deadbeat owing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Its executive director, Frank Boswell, had also been accused in a lawsuit of bribing Homeless Services officials. He was also involved in a shady home purchase in which his subordinate, using BEDCO's legal counsel, bought the home he rented.
The nonprofit was also the subject of two city Department of Investigation probes, including one that led to a 2015 report flagging BEDCO for operating a poorly maintained and unsafe cluster site at an East 174th Street building in The Bronx.
Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr., who represents the district where the two girls died, said the city's decision to end some of the contracts was a step in the right direction. However, he said the city needs to find a comprehensive strategy to address the homeless crisis.
"Two months later, I still am heartbroken that two little girls lost their lives due to the negligence of BEDCO as a landlord as well as the city’s failure to properly ensure the safety of this unit," Salamanca said. "This was unacceptable, and continues to demonstrate the problems DHS faces in contracting with bad organizations that do not keep the safety and security of homeless families a top priority."