NEW YORK—An audit by the comptroller’s office revealed that the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) failed to do its job in monitoring how effectively social service organizations they hired were helping families displaced by Superstorm Sandy.
In the aftermath of the 2012 storm that caused thousands of New Yorkers to lose their homes, 20 nonprofit organizations like Project Hospitality, SCO Family of Services, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, and the Acacia Network were contracted by the DHS to provide shelter, counseling, and case management services.
Those services included helping Sandy evacuees apply for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assistance, finding permanent housing, getting home repairs, and arranging medical and psychiatric treatment for them. The contracts amounted to nearly $20 million.
The audit report, released on Thursday, examined only eight out of the 20 contracted organizations, finding that the city agency paid for services that actually took place after the contract period had ended. For example, the nonprofit assisting homeless women and their children, Women In Need, claimed $28,000 in cleaning costs for the month of January 2013 when their contract actually expired in December 2012.
The DHS also failed to keep detailed records evaluating how well the organizations were able to help those New Yorkers in need. According to the report, DHS employees were supposed to conduct site visits to shelters the organizations provided and take observation notes, but no such records existed. Some contracts required that the organizations submit weekly status reports and collect daily census data on the evacuees they assisted, but only a few did so.
Finally, the audit noted that the agency did not give out satisfaction surveys to people who received assistance from the contractors—as required by city rules.
“What we found was troubling and unacceptable,” comptroller Scott Stringer said at a press conference in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Thursday. “They just failed to do their jobs.” He said the lack of clear standards for how to monitor contractors hired in emergencies could jeopardize the city’s future response to emergencies.
“Once again, the DHS has proven that they do not have the public trust,” said Far Rockaway assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder at the press conference.
In response, a DHS spokesman said in a statement that the agency will continue reviewing the comptroller’s recommendations, but called the results of the audit “relatively minor, when compared to the herculean response that DHS executed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.” In total, the DHS sheltered over 6,500 Sandy evacuees.
The agency itself has begun auditing their contractors, and found $177,080 in incorrect payments for employees’ salaries thus far. The DHS expects to complete auditing all the contractors by this month, and said it has complied with FEMA regulations to get reimbursement.
At a press conference addressing the city’s post-Sandy recovery on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Epoch Times that the DHS has already begun making changes to fix its problems. “It’s clear that a number of mistakes were made after Sandy—also some good things were done after Sandy. It’s not one or another,” he said. “I think a lot of reforms have already happened and more will be underway. And we feel good about the ability to manage the money going forward.”
This is the first Sandy-related audit that the comptroller’s office has conducted. The office’s newly created Sandy Oversight Unit is now auditing the much-maligned Sandy housing recovery program, Build it Back. Previously, the program was found to have paid $5 million in employee salaries, though it has helped less than one percent of people who registered for the program.
Additional reporting by Ivan Pentchoukov