EAST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — For months, CBS2 has been investigating a New York City program intended to help homeless families.

But instead, those families have ended up worse off.

They are the forgotten families, placed in homes in New Jersey with no heat, hot water or a working bathroom.

The city paid one year’s rent to landlords upfront.

On Thursday, for the first time, one of them spoke to CBS2’s Lisa Rozner.

East Orange, New Jersey tenant Michael Leake, left, meets up with his landlord, Sean Young, on March 14, 2019. (Photo: CBS2)

Following a judge’s orders, landlord Sean Young met with East Orange housing inspectors to fix the home he’s renting to New York City homeless families.

“We would not issue a certificate of habitability for this apartment,” said Mark Barner, director of East Orange Property Maintenance.

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Also there to greet young was Michael Leake, a tenant who he rented last summer a home that had no heat, hot water or working bathroom.

Young blamed government red tape for the delay in the fixes and claimed, “I’m not trying to not take care of whoever needs to be taken care of.”

Last month, Young moved Leake’s family to an apartment on Amherst Street, but Leake said his belongings were stolen in the process.

“Can I be compensated?” Leake asked and then responding when asked if he’s on the lease, “Yes, I’m head of household.”

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Between Leake and another family, New York City has paid young at least $40,000 up front for a two-family house, as part of the Department of Homeless Services program called SOTA, or the Special One-Time Assistance Program.

The city covers one year’s rent for eligible working parents to move out of shelters. Family after family have told CBS2 that DHS pressured them to move out of state, often without inspecting houses. DHS officials haven’t been at any of the landlord court hearings, so Rozner asked Young if the agency has asked for any of the money back.

“They haven’t asked me for any of the money back and SOTA actually owes me money,” Young said.

CBS2 has been asking DHS if it has a specific plan to get taxpayer money back from landlords. A spokesperson issued a statement that says in part that it is working to aggressively address potential fraud.

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Right now, both Leake and the other family Young rented to are back living in a shelter. Young told Leake he would call him Thursday, but never did.

“He should be in jail. He should be forced to live in his own conditions,” Leake said.

Young said he’ll have workers back at the house Friday morning making necessary repairs, and he will be back in front of a judge next Wednesday.

CBS2 learned this week that the Department of Investigation — an independent city watchdog — is now investigating the SOTA program.


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