BINGHAMTON, N.Y. — New York City’s written response to Broome County’s complaints that homeless people were being shipped Upstate has officials ready to go to court.
In a March 13 letter to Broome County’s social services commissioner Nancy Williams, her equal in New York City says charges that the city is sending homeless individuals to Broome County are “patently false.”
Further, Steven Banks, commissioner of the New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services (HRA), points out that while Broome County reported five families had been moved from New York City to Broome County, he found 20 families (53 individuals) with a last known address in Broome County who were now living in New York shelters for the homeless.
Banks flatly denied Broome County’s contention that paying a year’s rent for an apartment in Broome County for homeless New York City residents violates state law. He further claims the law cited by Broome County is not constitutional because it violates the right to travel.
“All New York State residents have a right to seek housing where they can afford it and employment where they can find it — within New York City or elsewhere. If residents are in need of assistance and entitled to those benefits, it is the obligation of all local services districts to provide them with any benefits they are entitled to receive.”
The letter concluded by offering to discuss the matter further, “as we have been since you first brought this to our attention before you chose to attack these families and a program designed to help them with your media blitz.”
Broome County Executive Jason Garnar issued a two-sentence reply: “It is clear New York City has no intent to stop sending people to Broome County through this cynical and illegal program. We will see them in court.”
The dispute arose several weeks ago when social-service workers noticed a pattern of families applying for aid saying they didn’t need help with housing, says Broome County Social Services Commissioner Nancy Williams. The new applicants told workers their rent in Broome County was being paid for a year by the New York City HRA under a Special One Time Assistance (SOTA) program.
Williams tells CNYBJ that New York City wasn’t following its own rules for the program that is covering rent. According to a fact sheet from New York City, SOTA is supposed to be reserved for recipients who are working or generating enough income to make future rent payments
None of the people who moved to Broome County had a job, says Broome County Assistant Attorney Howard Schultz. One person did have a job while in New York City, he says, but quit it to move to Broome County.
Another two-person family is receiving rent for a year in Broome County despite the fact that they were sanctioned while in New York City for not taking part in required job programs, Schultz says.
Not only were the families moved here despite laws forbidding it, social-service agencies also were not told about pre-existing problems, Shultz says. A family sent to Broome County had child-welfare issues in the past and no one notified Broome County officials so they could follow up and make sure the two children involved were receiving proper care, he reports. Workers in Broome County only learned about it when they investigated. “We looked it up in the system,” Schultz says.
“Broome County believes New York City HRA’s actions are in direct contradiction to New York State Social Services Law Section 148, which requires New York City to provide assistance and care for their residents,” Schultz says.
It’s not just illegal, he says, it’s criminal. “It’s a misdemeanor to transfer homeless people in need to another place.”
Every community has a homeless problem, Schultz says, and that’s why state laws prevent one place from sending its homeless residents elsewhere. “New York State law protects us from that gaming of the system.”
Schultz and Williams stress that Broome County provides for those in need. Schultz makes the point that dislocating families from New York City to Broome County makes it harder for children to succeed in school — and if they need to be relocated back to the Big Apple when the rent money is gone, it will make things worse still.
A 3½-hour drive from New York City, Broome County has much lower rents. In Broome County, fair market monthly rents average just over $600 for a one-bedroom apartment, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The same figure for New York County (Manhattan) is $1,558 a month. For the year’s rent paid by HRA, that represents a cost difference of nearly $12,000.
New York City pays even more for space in homeless shelters, Williams says.
Schultz says he is asking New York City to stop the program immediately and reimburse Broome for the expenses it has incurred caring for people who, by law, are supposed to be cared for by New York City.
A county spokesperson says no court action has been taken, but the county is continuing to research the matter.