December 22, 2015; New York Times

Sometimes, just due to a lack of resources, public agencies fail to exercise adequate oversight of the nonprofits they contract to provide critical public services.

The New York Times reports on an audit showing that the New York City Department of Homeless Services doesn’t have enough employees to oversee the nonprofit organizations that operate its shelters, which house 12,000 families with children. The agency is being reviewed after a management shake-up last week.

Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the inadequacy and said he would add more staff to the current 14 analysts over the next two months. The City Comptroller’s audit found that the current ratio of one program analyst for every 900 families has prevented consistent apartment inspections. Auditors found a range of health and safety problems, including mold, cockroaches, and mice, as well as peeling paint and missing window screens.

The findings mirror those in a report requested by the mayor and produced in March by the city’s Department of Investigation. This recent audit comes in the wake of the resignation of the commissioner of homeless services after months of criticism. The mayor said the agency would be reorganized and the city would improve its efforts.

Comptroller Scott Stringer told the Times he did not want the mayor to ignore the problems within the shelters while focusing on the more obvious homeless problem the public sees on the streets and in the subways. An estimated 3,100 homeless people were living on the streets last year, compared with more than 58,000 living in the shelters, managed by community-based nonprofits under the auspices of the Homeless Services Department.

New York City’s approach to street homelessness, shelters, and rental assistance programs that help people get into permanent housing will all be reviewed over the first quarter of 2016. The comptroller’s audit findings will figure into that. The agency says it has already addressed many of the points raised in the audit, creating a shelter repair squad and adding 260 security officers.

The audit looked at 155 shelters for families, which includes about 23,000 children. It also investigated a random sampling of apartments in a few of those shelters, where it found rodents and roaches, blocked fire escapes, broken showers and light fixtures, and faulty smoke detectors.

The auditors said there had been poor oversight because of the size of the workloads that burden the agency’s staff, who said that they depended on the nonprofit operators to report problems.—Larry Kaplan