One family of six was living in a homeless-shelter apartment where a dead rat festered on the floor for two days. Another had been without electricity for days. Urine soiled the floor of the only working elevator at yet another. All those buildings were part of a system that costs the New York City Department of Homeless Services about $360 million a year, with the agency sometimes paying well above neighborhood market rates for apartments, per a city Department of Investigation report released today. It found decrepit and dangerous conditions and lacking enforcement were rife in the city-paid, largely privately-run shelters that house nearly 12,000 homeless families with children. "At its worst, DHS is turning a blind eye to violations that threaten the lives of shelter residents," the report said, calling for repairs, stiffer inspections, and new mechanisms to compel fixes.
DHS said it had already axed some apartments and two shelters, stepped up inspections, sought money for 19 new inspection staffers, and fixed more than half of some 600 building and fire code violations. New York City is legally obligated to provide shelter to all homeless people and has long grappled with how, exacerbated by need that's grown from about 39,000 a night in 2010 to more than 60,000 in November. Lowlights from the report:
- "Cluster sites"—apartments in buildings that also house private tenants—proved particularly deplorable, with roaches on walls, holes in corners, and unlocked front doors with inadequate security in lobbies of buildings with histories of violence. Garbage was piled in halls, beds were broken, and there were rats.
- The city pays an average of $2,450 a month for cluster site apartments, while the average rent in some neighborhoods is $1,200 a month and lower.
- One 140-family shelter had only two stairwells, one of which was known to have been deteriorating since 2012. Ultimately, the city spent $637,000 for the guards who were ordered to block access to it, plus more than $750,000 to fix the stairs.