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City Needs Higher Standard, Transparency in Shelter Contracts: Stringer

By  Jeff Mays and James Fanelli | February 24, 2017 11:28am | Updated on February 27, 2017 7:14am

 1-year-old Scylee Vayoh Ambrose and 2-year-old Ibanez Ambrose were killed after a radiator burned her and her sister inside 720 Hunts Point Ave. Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016.
1-year-old Scylee Vayoh Ambrose and 2-year-old Ibanez Ambrose were killed after a radiator burned her and her sister inside 720 Hunts Point Ave. Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small and Facebook/danielle.ambrose.509

MIDTOWN — The nonprofit operator of a shelter where two girls were scalded to death by a malfunctioning radiator is a "bad actor" that may deserve to lose all of their city contracts, Comptroller Scott Stringer said.

Speaking during a sit-down with DNAinfo New York reporters and editors recently, Stringer said it's unclear why the Bushwick Economic Development Corporation was allowed to keep the contracts for eight shelters that it manages after the deaths of Scylee Vayoh Ambrose, 1, and Ibanez Ambrose, 2 in The Bronx.

► READ MORE: City Cutting Ties With Operator of Shelter Where Radiator Killed 2 Girls

The Department of Homeless Services said it planned to find new operators for the 33 cluster site buildings and 11 commercial hotels in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx that BEDCO operated after DNAinfo New York reported in a series of stories that city homeless officials were repeatedly warned that the agency did not correct building code violations and failed to pay rent to the landlords from whom they leased their shelters and owed.

BEDCO also failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

De Blasio defended the decision at first only to cancel later certain BEDCO contracts.

"You have to ask Mr. Banks about the specific decision," de Blasio said referring to Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks.

► READ MORE: City Ignored Warnings on Operator of Shelter Where Girls Died, Emails Show

"Mr. Banks came to the conclusion that for the type of work they were doing he was not comfortable continuing that. As you know he has made that decision in the case of several other nonprofits," de Blasio said.

The mayor added that he was "comfortable" that Banks "holds very vigorous standards" when it comes to the outside agencies who operate shelters.

"He has my full support. Whenever he decides that an organization is not providing the kind of work he wants he has my full support in cancelling the contract or modifying," de Blasio continued.

Stringer said that's not good enough.

"I trust Steve Banks too. But that doesn't mean you use the power of the mayoralty to demand a higher standard from operators and that you don't put forth a transparent process so that we can easily see or identify the good actors from the bad," Stringer said. "So much of this is opaque. So much of this we as comptroller can't dig into."

Stringer has been critical of the mayor's handling of the homelessness crisis, saying de Blasio has not acted with enough urgency and creativity to address the magnitude of the problem.

There are a record 60,000-plus people in the city's shelters. Stringer has called for more affordable housing for lower income residents and utilizing a land bank to develop vacant city-owned properties.

►READ MORE: City's Homeless Agency Failing Children and Families, Audit Finds

The mayor has dismissed those criticism as "disingenuous" and "grandstanding." De Blasio has noted that if the city had not taken steps to stem homelessness that the shelter population could be at least 10,000 people higher.

De Blasio will reveal a new plan to deal with record homelessness on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Stringer said the issue calls for a solid plan.

"The lack of progress is in a lot of these areas is the fact that there is not an overall, transparent plan," he said. "Everyone is rooting for Steve Banks and the mayor to succeed but we also have to make sure that we are holding City Hall accountable to showing progress, and right now that is something we haven't seen yet."