CBS: DHS Was Put On Notice About Deplorable Living Conditions In SOTA Program More Than A Year Ago

There’s been a stunning discovery in CBS2’s investigation into the plight of the forgotten families.

We’ve been profiling them for a week: Seven families who say the city pressured them out of shelters and into deplorable living conditions in New Jersey.

We’ve now learned city officials were put on notice about the issue more than a year ago, but they did nothing. Mice, roaches, broken ceilings, no heat, cracked windows, huge wall holes, floods, broken lights, rotten cabinets, mold: The 10 plagues faced by many homeless families sent by New York City officials to live in decrepit apartments in New Jersey.

Now, CBS2 has discovered that for 10 months, officials knew they were sentencing vulnerable homeless families to live in hellholes, and did nothing.

CBS2’s Marcia Kramer asked Department of Homeless Service Commissioner Steven Banks about a January 29, 2018 letter from a group he himself ran for 30 years.

The letter laid out in stomach-turning detail the plight of families in the Special One Time Assistance program. It begged the city to “investigate these cases… prevent future inadequate inspections… and ensure additional families are not moved to unsafe apartments.”

“This letter is dated January. You took action in October. That’s 10 months, it took you 10 months to try to correct what they told you about in January,” Kramer asked Banks.

“But we went through a period of time to promulgate a rule, there’s a notice and comment period,” Banks said.

While they were waiting for the rule change, the city kept dumping families in bad apartments, Kramer reported.

“We’re working with law enforcement to hold the responsible parties accountable,” Banks said.

“By sending them to New Jersey, didn’t you limit the kind of action you can’t take against them because you don’t have authority in New Jersey?” Kramer asked.

“The program called Special One Time Assistance is modeled on a program Ed Koch developed in the 1980s,” Bank said.

“But you didn’t pay a year’s worth of rent in advance,” Kramer said.

“The proof is in the pudding, in the numbers of families that have relocated and the small number that have returned. One family that returns is one family too many, which is why we have taken steps over the past several months to tighten up the programs,” Banks said.

Kathryn Kliff of the Legal Aid Society said on CBSN New York she was particularly concerned about the decision to move the families to New Jersey because they lost out on city services.

“If you were living in shelter in New York City, you probably had connections to a whole swath of providers. Social workers, other people you have been working with. And to take you out of that situation to a new situation, you’ve lost all of the connections you might have had,” Kliff said.

Kramer asked Banks about whether the city inspects the apartments, and if he had documents to prove it. Banks said he could show inspections done after October. Before that, it may just have been blind faith.