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DiNapoli: Problems Persist at Many Hotels and Motels Used to House Homeless

State Made Improvements Since Last Audit, but More Work Needed

State auditors examining hotels and motels used to house the homeless found poor conditions still exist at many facilities across New York state with significant problems including mold, water damage, exposed wiring, missing smoke detectors and garbage in rooms, according to an audit released by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

In 2016, DiNapoli launched a major review of the state's homeless shelter system. This review encompassed 200 emergency shelters and 187 hotels and motels located across 48 different counties. Working with the comptrollers from Albany, Dutchess, Nassau, Onondaga, Suffolk and Ulster counties, auditors found one in five of those facilities were in poor condition. Shelters contained mold, unsanitary restrooms and vermin. The audit released today examined the state's efforts in addressing pervasive issues.

"Auditors found that unacceptable conditions still exist at some hotel and motel shelters,"DiNapoli said. "In some cases, they found squalid environments that might render facilities uninhabitable. While it is good that the state has made progress in improving facilities, more work is needed to ensure homeless individuals and families are provided safe and secure living arrangements."

In the report released today, auditors visited 80 hotels and motels, finding 24 (30 percent) to be in unsatisfactory condition, confirming observations from the 2016 report. The October 2016 site inspections included re-visiting 19 of the 26 hotels and motels that were rated as very poor in the previous assessment. Of these 19 hotels and motels, 12 still had significant problems.

"The Albany County Department of Audit & Control thanks Comptroller DiNapoli and his staff for their efforts and collaboration on the audit of the use of motels to house the homeless,"said Albany County Comptroller Michael F. Conners II. "This is an important step to quantifying the problem and leading to more effective policies.""I applaud State Comptroller DiNapoli's office for pointing out the need to improve communication and collaboration among state and local agencies,"Ulster County Comptroller Elliott Auerbach said. "A cooperative effort between agencies and governments are one way to ensure the safety, cleanliness and security of temporary hotel and motel residences for the homeless. Local town and village code enforcement officers could be enlisted to support the state agencies charged with oversight of this enormous task.""I fully support Comptroller DiNapoli's continued review of homeless housing,"Suffolk County Comptroller John M. Kennedy Jr. said. "Along with habitability standards, I believe we must examine the present financial model, as unauthorized expenditures continue to be stubbornly persistent.""I am proud to continue this important work with Comptroller DiNapoli," said Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci.

The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) administers many important state programs for low-income residents, including emergency shelters. OTDA has authorized the local Social Services Districts (SSDs) to utilize hotels and motels to provide shelter to homeless people under certain circumstances. Although OTDA has assigned responsibility for the inspection of such housing to the SSDs, it remains responsible for monitoring the local governments' activities.

The state Department of Health (DOH) oversees its own district offices and county health offices across the state, excluding New York City. The district and county offices are responsible for permitting and inspecting temporary residences (facilities that house individuals for less than 180 consecutive days), including hotels and motels, as they are considered temporary residences under the law. For hotels and motels located in a city with a population of 125,000 or more (i.e., Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers), the inspection functions are performed by city officials; DOH is not responsible for oversight of these hotels and motels.

DiNapoli's auditors found that although OTDA has taken steps to improve its oversight, it still needs to provide better guidance and support to help the SSDs perform six-month inspections of hotels and motels. In cooperation with the six county comptrollers, auditors from DiNapoli's office interviewed officials at 22 SSDs across the state and found that 13 only recently became aware of the legal requirement to perform six-month inspections – a requirement that has been in place since 1983.

Although OTDA has established a standard checklist to be used for six-month inspections, practices are not uniform across districts and confusion still exists regarding the inspection process. Additionally, OTDA has not provided SSDs with guidance regarding corrective action plans should they find unsatisfactory conditions.

DiNapoli recommended OTDA:

  • Provide additional guidance and establish uniform procedures for SSDs' staff to ensure full understanding of inspection goals;
  • Establish clear and concise policies and procedures for recommended actions to be taken by SSDs in the case of hotels and motels that are found to be unsatisfactory; and
  • Establish a process to capture and analyze data from the six-month inspections submitted by the SSDs to better monitor hotels and motels used for homeless housing.

DiNapoli recommended OTDA and DOH:

  • Improve communication and collaboration among pertinent state and local government agencies to: prevent duplication of efforts; strengthen the current inspection system; and ensure the most efficient use of public resources to inspect temporary residences used to house the homeless.

OTDA and DOH officials generally concurred with DiNapoli's recommendations and indicated actions that will be taken to address them. However, rather than addressing the facility deficiencies identified through site visits, OTDA officials detailed organizational, legal, and administrative functions that only indirectly affect long-standing problems, such as exposed electrical wiring and mold. The agencies' full responses are included in the complete audit.

Read the report, or go to: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093017/16s49.pdf

The Comptroller also released a follow-up report to a 2016 audit which examined OTDA's oversight of local districts and shelter operators. The initial audit found that the office had not completed some required inspections and allowed some substandard living conditions at the shelters. Some of the conditions posed dangerous health and safety risks to shelter residents, including fire and safety violations, vermin infestations and mold.

The follow-up audit found that generally conditions and habitability at shelters have improved. However, further improvements were possible if OTDA provided more guidance to local districts for shelter inspections and the correction of deficiencies.

Read the report, or go to: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093017/16f31.pdf

Members of the Comptroller's Division of State Government Accountability won the 2017 Excellence in Accountability - Special Project Award presented by the National State Auditors Association for their work on the 2016 report Homeless Shelters and Homelessness in New York State.

For access to state and local government spending, public authority financial data and information on 130,000 state contracts, visit Open Book New York. The easy-to-use website was created to promote transparency in government and provide taxpayers with better access to financial data.