An audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli found the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) continues to provide inadequate oversight of homeless shelters, allowing unsafe conditions that pose significant health and safety risks.
Out of the 159 shelters DiNapoli’s auditors visited in the spring of 2019, 96 (60 percent) were in unsatisfactory condition. Twenty-one of those were identified in poor condition in prior audits by the Comptroller. At both certified and uncertified shelters, as well as hotels and motels, auditors observed a range of unsatisfactory, and even squalid living conditions. Significant violations included structural damage, mold, bugs and vermin, exposed wiring, water damage, missing smoke detectors, expired or uncharged fire extinguishers, and signs of smoking and drug use.
“New York’s homeless population deserves to be housed in a safe and dignified setting,” DiNapoli said. “In too many cases, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance is failing to ensure a healthy living environment for those that need it most.”
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2019 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, New York state has the second largest population of homeless in the United States with 92,091 individuals. New York also had the largest increase in this population – 46.8 percent – between 2007 and 2018.
DiNapoli’s audit found required plans designed to help homeless individuals and families secure permanent housing are not being completed on a timely basis or, in some cases, at all. Auditors identified discrepancies between the list of facilities used for housing referrals by OTDA and local districts. OTDA was also unaware of 35 facilities that received homeless resident referrals from local districts.
OTDA administers programs for the state’s low-income residents and provides support to local districts in the operation of these programs. It also manages transitional housing needs of the state’s homeless population and oversees a network of transitional shelters to ensure their compliance with applicable rules and regulations. For 2018, local districts submitted $2 billion in claims to OTDA for homeless housing reimbursement, almost double the amount submitted in 2014 ($1.1 billion) as was reported in DiNapoli’s previous 2016 report which provided an overview of homelessness and homeless shelters, exclusive of New York City.
DiNapoli offered several recommendations, including that OTDA:
- Improve policies and procedures for using inspection checklists and monitoring shelter violations;
- Take steps to ensure shelter violations are corrected, which may include partially or fully withholding reimbursements for homeless services or reconsidering provider eligibility in the homeless shelter system in accordance with applicable regulations;
- Review required plans to help homeless individuals and families secure permanent housing; and
- Improve transparency and cooperation to maintain good governance.
Auditors encountered issues with transparency and cooperation that led to delays in receiving information, scheduling meetings and performing shelter site visits. However, OTDA generally agreed with the audit’s recommendations and indicated the actions it will take to address them. The agency’s response is included in the audit.
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