Bureau of Audit
Audit Report On The Monitoring Of The Work Advantage Program By The Department Of Homeless Services
July 15, 2010
AUDIT REPORT IN BRIEF
Download the Complete Audit Report (pdf 523KB)
The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is responsible for providing emergency shelter and social services to homeless families and individuals in New York City. The services are designed to help homeless families and individuals gain self-sufficiency and move from temporary to permanent housing. In April 2007, the City instituted the Advantage New York Program (Advantage NY) consisting of three distinct subsidized housing programs: Work Advantage, Children Advantage, and Fixed Income Advantage. Each program has different eligibility criteria. The Work Advantage Program (WADV) is the largest of the three programs in terms of client participation. According to data obtained from DHS officials, a total of 8,187 WADV housing leases were signed from April 2007 to October 31, 2009.
The goal of the WADV program is to enable clients to become self-sufficient while they work and live in the community. The WADV program offers homeless families and individuals (clients) living in temporary shelters a one-year rental subsidy, with the possibility of renewal for a second year. The objective of this audit was to determine whether DHS ensured that the WADV program is carried out in accordance with its guidelines.
Audit Findings and Conclusions
DHS has not instituted sufficient controls to ensure that the WADV program is carried out in full accordance with its guidelines. In part, this is the result of its failure to update and distribute guidelines to DHS staff on a timely basis, which has led to inconsistencies in how they carry out procedures. During our interviews with DHS staff, we found instances of confusion about policy changes resulting in their disseminating incorrect information to clients. We also found confusion about the procedures for conducting clearance checks and inspections, which may result in the leasing of apartments in buildings with hazardous violations.
In addition, DHS has failed to implement sufficient controls to deal with a prevalent issue that is often brought to the attention of DHS staff, namely, side deals—tenants paying additional rent payments outside their lease agreements. Although DHS officials cite a number of controls with regard to side deals that they believe to be working, they do not monitor those controls. In addition, DHS has failed to establish policy and procedures such as keeping track of landlords with known violations and ensuring that DHS inspections are properly monitored so that clients are placed in buildings with safe and adequate housing. The lack of some of these procedures, or the ineffectiveness of those currently in place, may place clients at risk of dealing with unscrupulous landlords or poor housing conditions.
Furthermore, DHS does not ensure that case files significant to the lease-signing process, which contain information that can be used in the event of future disputes, are adequately maintained and administered.
To address these issues, we make 11 recommendations, including that DHS should:
- Ensure that employees are thoroughly familiar with and adhere to all DHS policies and procedures in the course of processing WADV cases.
- Establish and enforce procedures that hold landlords and brokers who participate in side deals accountable and refrain from working with those individuals in the future.
- Review its procedures for educating clients during their stay in the shelters and for disseminating accurate information at the lease signing so that clients are better informed of their rights.
- Re-examine its current clearance procedures and set stringent thresholds and guidelines with regard to building violations to ensure that apartments in buildings with numerous hazardous violations are not registered.
- Emphasize to case workers the importance of obtaining all the required documentation and signatures required in the lease-signing process.