As spending on homeless services continues to rise, Comptroller Stringer calls for increased transparency to measure results

Agency Watch List report to be released quarterly on City agencies that must deliver better results

(New York, NY) — As the New York City Council Committee on Homeless Services holds a hearing today on the Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2019, Comptroller Stringer released the second “Agency Watch List” report, this time focused on the City’s spending on homeless services. Amid extraordinary increases in City expenditures on programs to address a historically large homeless population, the Comptroller’s report spotlights the lack of data available to measure the effectiveness of City spending.

The analysis found that while total spending on homelessness across agencies is projected in FY 2018 to increase by 149% from FY 2014, including a more than seven-fold increase in spending on prevention and permanent housing, the population in shelter has barely changed. Meanwhile, comprehensive publicly available information allowing for evaluation of the success of the City’s programs is lacking.

“Resolving our city’s unprecedented homelessness crisis requires urgency and funding, no question – but while the rise in City spending on homeless services has been extraordinary, we are concerned with the lack of results for our most vulnerable New Yorkers,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “Reducing our homeless population has to be our top priority – and that goal won’t come easy or cheap. But with a cooling economy and uncertainty from Washington, we need to be smarter with our dollars today – and we need to see results. Data-driven policy matters, but without the publicly available data needed to measure results, it’s impossible to evaluate what is working and what is not. We want to see results for the New Yorkers most in need – that’s why we’re shining a spotlight on when and how the City is spending on services to support the homeless.”

The Agency Watch List, first announced in the Comptroller’s Preliminary Budget Presentation, spotlights City agencies – the Department of Correction (DOC), Department of Education (DOE), and Department of Homeless Services (DHS) – that raise the most budgetary concerns due to rapidly increased spending and insufficient measurable results. Reports, to be released on each department quarterly, will review trends and recommend indicators that should be reported and monitored to evaluate the effectiveness of agency spending in achieving the Administration’s stated goals.

New York City’s homeless services expenditures cross five agencies that share responsibilities for supporting, sheltering and permanently housing every eligible person or family that seeks assistance, including the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), as well as the Departments of Social Services, Youth and Community Development, Health and Mental Hygiene, and Veterans Services. Accordingly, the Comptroller has analyzed multi-agency spending on homeless services in his Agency Watch List for FY 2019.

Shelter Population Historically Large

  • From FY 2014 to the current year, FY 2018, total citywide spending on homelessness by all agencies rose from $1.2 billion to over $2.9 billion;
  • In the last four years, shelter costs have more than doubled, to over $1.9 billion. The City has added $466 million in spending for shelters in 2018 since the budget was adopted last June;
  • New York City’s shelter population increased by 17.5 percent between January 2014 and April 2018. The City’s shelter population reached a record high of 61,075 individuals on February 7, 2018; and
  • Among the determinants of daily shelter population is the average length of stay in shelter. The Comptroller’s Watch List report found that the number of families with children in shelter for one year or longer increased by 9 percent from June 2014 to February 2018.

Investment in Prevention Services Grows as Shelter Population Remains High

  • Spending on programs to prevent homelessness or to provide successful permanent exits from shelter have dramatically expanded from $105 million in FY 2014 to over $700 million in FY 2018 and now constitutes nearly a quarter of total homelessness spending;
  • At the same time, the number of single adult shelter entrants has grown while shelter entrances among families with children and adult (childless) families is consistent with, or slightly below, recent levels, contributing to stagnation in the City’s shelter population;
  • As the City bolsters its prevention services, including through increased funding for anti-eviction legal services, the number of requests for emergency rent assistance rose 42 percent between FY 2014 and FY 2016, and remains high; and
  • Spending on subsidized rental placements through several new initiatives has grown from just $22.9 million in FY 2014, to nearly $287 million in FY 2018 and is budgeted at $369.1 million for FY 2019. Yet, the number of monthly subsidized housing placements for all household types has leveled off since mid-2015 at roughly 800 placements per month.

Use of Cluster Sites and Commercial Hotels Continues as Expenditures Soar

  • The City announced in February, 2017 that it would eliminate the use of cluster sites by the end of 2021, and commercial hotel facilities by the end of 2023. However, over the next three years, the City is anticipating nearly $1.1 billion in expenditures for commercial hotel rooms alone;
  • On average, the City spent in excess of $1.1 million per month for hotel rooms that were not used during the six month period ending Dec. 31, 2017;
  • Last year, the Comptroller’s Office released a report detailing the exorbitant costs and extraordinary increase in City spending on commercial hotels for shelter residents, in which Comptroller Stringer called for greater transparency to ensure the City made progress in eliminating the use of cluster sites and commercial hotels; and
  • As part of the Agency Watch List report, Comptroller Stringer is calling once more on the City to provide detailed public data on the number of cluster sites and commercial hotels in use, as well as the size of the population housed in them. Without this data, it is nearly impossible to measure the City’s progress in closing such sites or to monitor the effectiveness of spending.

Over a Dozen Key Indicators Currently Not Reported

A number of key indicators regarding the City’s spending on homeless programs are not currently publicly reported, resulting in a gap between the Administration’s stated goals and the measures available to evaluate their success. These indicators include:

  • Applications for shelter by household type, quarterly;
  • Reasons for seeking shelter, quarterly;
  • Number of cluster sites in use and population housed, monthly;
  • Commercial hotel use, utilization rates and expenditures, monthly;
  • Subsidized housing placements by type of subsidy, monthly; and
  • Preventive services provided, by household type and type of assistance, monthly (partially reported in MMR).

As part of the Agency Watch List report, the Comptroller’s Office is calling on the Administration to immediately make these statistics publicly available, and incorporate them into the Mayor’s Management Report.

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