NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The commissioner for the Department of Homeless Services was grilled by the City Council Monday.
For the first time, he was also confronted by the very families who say his agency failed them.
For months, CBS2 has been reporting on the forgotten families, moved by the city out of homeless shelters and into deplorable homes in New Jersey.
CBS2’s Lisa Rozner was there when some of those families confronted DHS Commissioner Steven Banks.
“My heart goes out to the families. They were taken advantage of and we were taken advantage of,” Banks told a City Council committee.
While Banks expressed empathy to the council, the families listening in the audience shook their heads, Rozner reported.
Parents Kevin Nicholson and Sade Collington came to City Hall Monday to confront Banks. Last year, his agency placed their family in a dilapidated two-family home in East Orange, N.J. Michael Leake’s family was put in another unit in the same home.
“I’m very sorry,” Banks told Nicholson.
“So what is going to happen? And you’re the first person to say sorry through this whole process, the first DHS person to say sorry,” Nicholson said.
Banks made multiple apologies to Nicholson.
“We will cut through the red tape and resolve this for you,” Banks said. “I’m sorry you went through what you went through.”
That was followed by multiple questions.
“What are your plans for my family?” Collington asked.
“We will find you another apartment,” Banks said.
“Do you have a timeline? Because we have been in a shelter for a very long tim,” Collington said.
“Every day we’re looking for housing, and you’re at the top of our list to find an apartment,” Banks said.
They are part of at least a dozen CBS2 has uncovered relocated to unlivable homes through the DHS Special One-Time Assistance Program, or SOTA. It pays landlords one year’s rent up front for eligible working families.
These families say DHS pressured them to move, and told Banks what happened.
“We didn’t have no choice,” Nicholson said.
Rozner asked the commissioner if there are efforts to recoup the lost taxpayer money.
“I can assure you, we are working with law enforcement to address the conduct here, and when the investigation is concluded, we’ll have an announcement to make,” Banks said.
“Is there a specific law enforcement you’re working with?” Rozner asked.
“We referred to the Department of Investigation in New York City and we are working with them,” Banks said.
“Cutting the check and giving it to another state is not fixing the problem. It’s only making the problem worse,” Collington said. “We have endured conditions that are unspeakable.”
Both families were told to set up an appointment with Banks, but there’s no word on how soon that will happen, or when they finally have a home.