NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For weeks, CBS2 has been reporting on the plight of some of New York City’s forgotten families.
The Department of Homeless Services has moved homeless men, women, and children out of shelters and into homes in New Jersey. The problem? Some of the homes had no heat or water, and some even had holes in the walls.
On Wednesday, our own Lisa Rozner confronted a landlord accused of renting some of those homes outside a New Jersey courtroom.
Disappointingly, no one from the city made the trip to East Orange. At this point, CBS2 has identified a dozen families who may have been taken advantage of by six different landlords. It’s amounted to thousands of dollars the city’s handed over upfront, and they can’t say for certain if that taxpayer money will ever be recouped.
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Young rented dilapidated apartments in East Orange to at least two families who were participating in the Special One-Time Assistance program (SOTA), where DHS covers one year’s rent for eligible working parents by paying private landlords up front and in full.
Tenant Michael Leake showed CBS2 the lease he signed that appears to show the city paying Young $19,200 upfront for the year. Multiply that by the 12 families we’ve identified, and that amounts to at last $250,000 in wasted taxpayer money.
“I’m not clear what planet the city is living on,” Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-15th) said.
Torres chairs the committee that investigates mismanagement of city funds, and says this situation could warrant an investigation of DHS officials.
“We have a vested interest, there are New York City tax dollars at stake,” Torres said.
Councilman Stephen Levin (D-33), who chairs the General Welfare Committee which approves funding for DHS, agrees
“We really should be there and that should be a coordination between DHS and whatever jurisdiction, in this case it was East Orange,” Levin said.
On Thursday, CBS2 asked a city hall spokesperson for DHS the following questions:
- Does DHS have a specific plan to get taxpayer money back? If yes, what is the plan?
- Has DHS been able to identify any landlords that did not provide suitable housing?
- Which government agencies and law enforcement partners is DHS working with to investigate potential wrongdoing and fraud committed?
Incoming Public Advocate Jumaane Williams says when he starts next week, hell be asking the same questions.
“If we’re there to give them money, why are we not there when they’re in court? That doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
The city didn’t immediately respond to our line of questioning, but on Wednesday said it will hold bad actors accountable without providing any specifics.
DHS Commissioner Steve Banks is scheduled to testify about the problems at a budget hearing next month.