There’s nothing inherently wrong with Team de Blasio’s program for placing city homeless families in apartments outside the five boroughs — but, boy, have they bungled the execution.
Newark, New Jersey, Mayor Ras Baraka is suing the city in federal court over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Special One-Time Assistance program, claiming New York is dumping homeless in his town. Yet the city is really just paying a year’s worth of rent for families it’s trying to place in communities where they have roots — and thousands of Gotham’s homeless hail from Newark originally.
The problem is that de Blasio and his homeless czar, Steven Banks, did SOTA under the radar — and without properly checking out the units they were paying for.
In a savage Department of Investigation report, Commissioner Margaret Garnett flagged tremendous bungling that left families “living in squalor under the roofs of unscrupulous landlords.”
Earlier programs only covered travel costs for homeless relocated outside city borders. But since SOTA launched in August 2017, de Blasio has spent $89 million on rent to house 5,000 homeless families (some 12,000 individuals) — some as far away as Louisiana, Utah, Puerto Rico and even Hawaii. A third of the families actually remained in the city; nearly 1,200 wound up in Newark.
The DOI report found that landlords “collected tens-of-thousands of dollars in rental payments upfront from the city to provide these subpar conditions with little risk of accountability for their actions.”
Program guidelines said Department of Homeless Services or shelter staff should do site visits and “walk-throughs” of units in areas easily reached from the city, such as Newark (just a PATH ride away). But the actual requirements were looser, and workers often made do with photos or online records — and even took landlords’ word for apartment conditions.
City Hall insists it’s fixing all the problems now, and maybe it is. We certainly don’t think de Blasio or Banks ever meant to dump homeless New Yorkers in freezing or vermin-ridden apartments, as the DOI reports they did.
But it’s par for the course in an administration that time and again has failed the most vulnerable among us.