NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A major change is coming to a New York City program that relocates homeless families.
It comes nearly a year after CBS2 first began demanding answers after finding some New Yorkers living in deplorable conditions. Now we’ve gotten action.
The way the program has worked is New York City pays landlords here and across the country one year’s rent up front. That made it easy for some landlords to take the money and run. But now, CBS2 has learned, landlords will only be getting paid monthly.
Since January of 2019, we’ve been finding former New Yorkers living in New Jersey in homes without heat, without electricity, and infested with rodents. They are the forgotten families, relocated by New York City from homeless shelters to private units outside the five boroughs under SOTA, the Special One Time Assistance program.
One year’s rent — on average $17,000 — was given to those landlords up front and in full, disincentivizing them to make any repairs.
On Tuesday, a City Hall spokesperson confirmed that starting Feb. 1 landlords participating in the SOTA program will be paid monthly instead.
“More than 5,000 households have secured affordable housing through this program — just one of the range of resources we offer to families in need as part of our comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to helping New Yorkers experiencing homelessness get back on their feet. In the limited situations where a property owner may not live up to their commitments and housing fails to deliver what our clients deserve, we intend to use every tool at our disposal to hold them accountable. That’s why, as part of our ongoing efforts to continually strengthen our programs, beginning in February, we are transitioning to a monthly payment structure for SOTA that will further empower program participants and ensure landlords are responsive in addressing any concerns that may arise,” a DHS spokesman said.
Kathryn Kliff is with the Legal Aid Society, which has asked for changes since 2017.
“That will be a huge change we hope will make the program more successful,” Kliff said.
It comes weeks after Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Steve Banks appeared on CBSN New York’s show The Point. Marcia Kramer pressed him.
Watch: DHS Commissioner Steve Banks Appears On ‘The Point’
“But why do you have to give them a year in advance? Why give them month by month so you can check to make sure the apartments are up to snuff?” Kramer asked.
“Look, we’re open to making changes in the program,” Banks said.
The Department of Investigation had also recommended the change in a scathing report last month, writing that if landlords are paid monthly and don’t provide suitable housing, then DHS could cancel remaining SOTA payments to the landlord instead of attempting to recoup the payments through legal means, which is often unsuccessful.
WEB EXTRA: READ THE DOI’S FULL REPORT
In East Orange, N.J., housing officials had to take landlords to court, making them pay fines in New Jersey. But still, New York City has not been able to recoup the hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money it paid to unscrupulous landlords.
CBS2’s Lisa Rozner spoke with some former SOTA recipients about the change, and they agreed it is a good idea. But they said the monthly payments still don’t stop landlords from providing substandard housing.
In the meantime, we know that DHS is working on setting up a hotline this year that SOTA recipients experiencing problems can call.