BINGHAMTON — A New York City program that has sent at least five homeless families to live in Broome County is illegal and must stop, say county officials.
In recent weeks social-services 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. They told workers their rent in Broome County was being paid for a year by New York City.
Broome County Executive Jason Garnar said in a news release that the New York City Human Resource Administration (HRA) has used a “Special One Time Assistance” (SOTA) program to send homeless people to Broome County.
“I support all efforts to help people out of homelessness,” said Garnar. But he noted the relocations are illegal. “Recipients of this program have been relocated by New York City to upstate New York, then abandoned by New York City HRA.”
“After being relocated by New York City, these individuals then seek medical, food, cash, and other forms of public assistance from the targeted county,” he said. “That is illegal and could have a significant impact on our taxpayers in Broome County.”
Williams said social services identified six homeless families, about 15 individuals, who were moved to Broome County just since November.
Assistant Broome County Attorney Howard Schultz tells CNYBJ he told New York City HRA to cease and desist. He also says New York City officials confirmed five of the families had been sent to Broome County.
“You can’t deal with it by sending it someplace else,” Schultz says of the Big Apple’s homeless problem.
“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.
In fact, it’s criminal, he says. “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,” he notes.
Williams says New York City’s HRA isn’t even following its own rules. Recipients are supposed to be working or generating enough income to make future rent payments.
None of the people who moved to Broome County had a job, Schultz says. One person had a job while in New York City, but quit it to move to Broome County. Another two-person family is receiving rent for a year in Broome County even though they were sanctioned while in New York City for not taking part in required job-training programs.
Not only were the families moved here despite laws forbidding it, social-services agencies were not told about pre-existing problems. Schultz 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. Workers in Broome County only learned about it when they investigated. “We looked it up in the system,” Schultz says.
Schultz and Williams stress that Broome County provides for those in need. Schultz made 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. “That would be the real comparison.”
A 2017 analysis by the New York City comptroller found that some homeless shelters were charging more than $400 per night and some charged as much as $549 a night.
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.
Schultz says he doesn’t know if other upstate counties are also experiencing the arrival of people from the HRA program, but says, “I don’t think it’s just Broome County.” He says it’s possible social-services officials are handling similar cases across Upstate without even realizing it. “People just process it and don’t think about it,” he says.
“I have to believe it’s happening all over.”