A timely report from the city Department of Investigation (DOI) shows that the de Blasio administration’s homeless relocation program has been under investigation since February.
The agency’s findings seem to support a federal lawsuit filed the city of Newark against the de Blasio administration claiming the Human Resources Administration had placed homeless families in unsafe living conditions outside city limits through the Special One-Time Assistance (SOTA) program.
The DOI claims families were sent to live in buildings which lacked occupancy certifications, may have not had heat or with insect and vermin infestations.
The DOI specifically looked into the city’s dealings with Sean Young, a New Jersey-based landlord, and found that in the past the city did not require proof of ownership of the buildings he was renting to SOTA recipients.
“The Landlord Ombudsman Services Unit handling SOTA does not require any occupancy certifications and may permit a utility bill in lieu of a deed as proof of ownership,” the executive summary of the report says. “DOI found that some of Young’s apartments did not have valid Certificates of Habitability from the relevant New Jersey county at the time DHS clients were placed in those units. Finally, deeds are public records and are generally easier for HRA to verify or audit than utility records.”
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration is claiming the same thing as DOI: that the city failed to inspect apartments prior to moving homeless families into slums on the other side of the Hudson.
The lawsuit from the Baraka administration filed in Newark federal court Monday received a public response from Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday on Inside City Hall. The mayor did not acknowledge the bottom line of the litigation – unsafe housing – and claimed Newark was deflecting away from the human element of the homeless crisis.
The DOI found one apartment housing a SOTA recipient to be 42 degrees, well below the 68 degree standard.
HRA, however, told amNewYork they had not only reported bad landlords to DOI and that many of the suggestions made by the agency had been implemented in the program.
“We agree on the need to continually strengthen our programs, which is why we made addressing these very points our top priority over a year ago, during the first 12 months of the program,” Department of Social Services spokesman Isaac McGinn said. “We have since implemented comprehensive apartment review standards — and we provide continual training to staff regarding the program, its enhancements, and the steps they are required to take to ensure clients are connected to safe apartments as they get back on their feet.”
City of Newark spokesman Mark Di Ionno said Tuesday that the Baraka and de Blasio are planning a face-to-face meeting, but no date had been determined. Until then, there would be comment apart from the lawsuit.
De Blasio further stated on Tuesday that the reason for placing homeless families in cities like Newark was due to the difficulty of finding landlords who accept rent vouchers.