New York, NY – October 15, 2009 – (RealEstateRama) — According to an audit released today by New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson Jr., the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is delaying or denying more than 20 percent of homeless families housing for which they may have been eligible.
Thompson’s audit – available at www.comptroller.nyc.gov – determined whether DHS maintains adequate controls over the determination of eligibility for temporary housing benefits for homeless families. The audit covered fiscal year 2008.
“Each year, thousands of families apply for temporary housing assistance,” Thompson said. “With so many families in need, delaying or denying them housing is simply unacceptable. The City is clearly not taking seriously the needs of New Yorkers.”
DHS, in partnership with public and private agencies, provides temporary and emergency shelter for homeless families and single adults in New York City. In addition, DHS provides job training, substance abuse and mental health services, as well as housing-search support. The services are designed to help homeless families transition from temporary to permanent housing. DHS manages 11 City-run and 205 privately-run shelter facilities consisting of 49 single adult facilities and 167 family facilities.
DHS’ Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing Office (PATH) provides assistance to families seeking emergency housing. PATH operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
While DHS has implemented a number of guidelines to govern the overall process of determining eligibility for temporary housing benefits for homeless families, DHS has not ensured that its guidelines for determining eligibility are consistently followed by its staff when families are deemed ineligible.
Of 32 sampled cases in which families filed more than one application (encompassing 138 applications), DHS staff did not consistently adhere to its procedures when processing the applications and determining the eligibility for seven (22 percent) of the cases. Specifically, DHS staff failed to comply with eligibility guidelines with regards to (1) the verification of a two-year housing history, (2) the provision of assistance to families, and (3) the provision of accepting the primary tenant’s statements in light of other circumstances. As a result, families were delayed or denied assistance for which they may have been eligible.
In failing to follow the eligibility guidelines, DHS staff placed an undue burden on families in need. Two of the seven families were found not eligible after filing three and 16 applications, respectively. Another five families had to file from three to as many as 23 applications each before eventually being deemed eligible.
In one case, a family of two adults and two children filed 10 applications during fiscal year 2008 and 13 applications prior to that year, for a total of 23 applications. The reason cited for non-eligibility was non-cooperation in providing verifiable information for prior residences. However, the family provided an address for all 10 prior residences in which they had lived. In addition, the family cooperated with DHS in the investigation and DHS had ruled out prior residences as viable housing options. Nevertheless, the family was repeatedly denied eligibility on the basis that DHS had not been able to verify the length of stay for five prior residences. In total, the family filed 23 applications over the course of nine months before receiving housing assistance from DHS.
DHS denied a different family’s application because they could not provide proof that they stayed at a particular residence for three weeks. There was no evidence in the case files that DHS informed the applicants of alternate documents they could submit, nor was there evidence that DHS assisted the applicants in obtaining that information. The family was not deemed eligible until DHS confirmed the period of time that the family stayed at the residence. In total, the family submitted seven applications over the course of four months.
In another case, a pregnant applicant was found ineligible because DHS determined that she had a viable housing option with her boyfriend and his mother. The mother, however, stated that the apartment was overcrowded, and that she did not want the applicant to reside with her. The applicant submitted numerous applications, each time noting that she was not able to return to the primary tenant’s home because she was not wanted there. Months later, the primary tenant’s home was no longer deemed a housing option because of a domestic violence issue. In total, the applicant submitted 16 unsuccessful applications over the course of 10 months. However, based on the information auditors reviewed, it is unlikely that all of the prior denials were justified.
“Auditors found multiple cases of families in crisis who were delayed or denied housing multiple times and for several months,” Thompson said. “These accounts are too frequent and indicative of problems in the way DHS determines eligibility for housing.”
Thompson also found that DHS is not accurately reporting the reasons that some families are determined to be ineligible for benefits. In the sample of 32 families, there were four cases in which families were inappropriately categorized as non-cooperating. However, there is no evidence that their failure to produce the requested documents was a deliberate attempt to impede DHS’ investigation. DHS is misleading the public by inaccurately classifying cases as ineligible due to non-cooperation. DHS is inflating that category and not taking into account the actual reasons a family may not be able to provide all of the required information.
Auditors also found that PATH staff generally followed DHS guidelines for meeting with applicants in an initial screening, scheduling eligibility assessment conferences within the required time frame after the filing of the application and referring applicants who were domestic violence victims to the Human Resources Administration’s No Violence Again unit.
“These positive aspects, however, are mitigated by the weaknesses in the eligibility determination process,” Thompson said.
Based on evidence maintained in the case files sampled, neither auditors nor DHS could ascertain whether there were sufficient efforts to investigate applicants’ situations before making determinations of eligibility.
Thompson made the following recommendations to DHS:
- Improve its oversight of the eligibility determination process and ensure that the Team Leaders and quality review staff diligently review the case files and assess eligibility in accordance with the guidelines.
- Modify its guidelines to reflect further action that investigators are required to take when one of the multiple prior residences cannot be verified so as not to delay the eligibility process.
- Ensure that training, both initial and ongoing, is adequate so that employees are thoroughly familiar with, and adhere to, all DHS policies and procedures when processing applications and determining eligibility.
- Ensure that it reviews the reasons for determining ineligibility and accurately reports detailed reasons families are not found eligible for services.
New York City Comptroller’s Office press (at) comptroller.nyc (dot) gov / Main: (212) 669-3747 / Fax: (212) 669-8879