NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – For seven days, CBS2 has reported on seven families who say the city moved them out of shelters to broken down homes in New Jersey.
Those families say they were misled about the program designed to help them.
CBS2’s Ali Bauman interviewed Department of Homeless Services commissioner Steven Banks to hear his side of the story. Collapsed ceilings, frozen faucets, broken heaters, mice and flooding – they’re all a part of the New Jersey homes CBS2 has shown you that are paid for by the New York City Department of Homeless Services, or DHS.
“If you were homeless and desperate and in a shelter, would you have moved into one of these houses these families moved into?” Bauman asked Banks.
“For a working family, this is one of the few options to move out of shelters,” Banks said.
The DHS Special One Time Assistance program – known as SOTA – covers one year’s rent for eligible working parents to move out of shelters, using taxpayer money the city pays private landlords up front and in full, at about $17,000 per family.
“Thirty five hundred families have taken advantage to move out of shelter. About a third within New York City, more than half out of New York City,” Banks said. “Only 70 families have come back to our shelter system.
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“But you don’t know how many moved to other shelter systems?” Bauman asked.
“They’re making a choice to move out of New York City because the affordability challenge we have in this city,” Banks said.
But more than half a dozen families have told CBS2 DHS pressured them to move out of state. When landlords would not make repairs, the families say DHS did not help.
“I learned about this as a result of your reporting,” Banks told Bauman.
“Why didn’t you know about this before? Because they were reaching out to DHS,” Bauman asked.
“I know about it now and we’ve committed the resources to find other housing for families you’ve identified and other families we’re reaching out to identify,” Banks said. “We’re concerned there’s a group of families victimized by individuals. We’re working with law enforcement to hold those individuals accountable.”
“We made a change to address a problem we identified, which was families moving in voluntarily based on the promise to make repairs, then those repairs not materializing as a result of the rule change in October. That cant happen again,” Banks said.
“What happened to those people who signed leases between January and October?” Bauman asked.
“We’re very much focused on addressing the families that have been identified to us by you,” Banks said.
The very first family CBS2 profiled is back in a city shelter after New Jersey inspectors deemed their house uninhabitable. On Thursday, Kevin Nicholson told Bauman no one from DHS has talked to him about new housing since CBS2’s first report.
“What is your agency doing right now specifically to help those dozen families?” Bauman asked.
“We’re looking for other housing for those families in a tight housing market,” Banks said. “We want to get them out of the situations they’re in.”
Through our investigation, CBS2 found proof that the Department of Homeless Services had been notified about these terrible living conditions more than year ago.