EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA’s) mission is to increase opportunities for low-to-moderate income New Yorkers by providing safe, affordable housing and by facilitating access to social and community services.   More than 400,000 New Yorkers reside in NYCHA’s 326 public housing developments across the City’s five boroughs.

As of March 6, 2017, according to NYCHA, 257,143 families were on its waiting lists for public housing.[1]   Also according to NYCHA, as of March 6, 2017, NYCHA had 176,066 apartments and a 0.7 percent vacancy rate of apartments available for occupancy.  During Fiscal Year 2016, 3,938 new applicants moved into NYCHA apartments.  Of the 257,143 families on NYCHA’s waiting lists, 18,565 had been placed on a certified waiting list and another 1,469 were in the eligibility review phase (20,034 in total).  The remaining 237,109 (92 percent) families on the lists had not been called in for an eligibility interview to ascertain whether they qualified for placement on a certified waiting list.

The focus of this audit was on applicants on certified waiting lists and on new applicants awarded apartments.  The audit did not examine the circumstances of applicants in the eligibility review phase or the applicants on preliminary waiting lists who had not yet been called in for an eligibility interview.

NYCHA developed its Tenant Selection and Assignment Plan (TSAP), which has been approved by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to ensure that applications for conventional public housing are processed appropriately and in accordance with the law.[2]   To be considered for public housing, each applicant must submit an application online, or at a kiosk located at the developments, or at a computer terminal located at NYCHA’s Customer Contact Centers in the Bronx and in Brooklyn, or by mail.  NYCHA uses the SIEBEL computer system to store and track applications and applicant information, and the TSAP computer system to select applicants from certified waiting lists.[3]

NYCHA’s Applications and Tenancy Administration Department (ATAD) is responsible for processing new housing applications.   ATAD determines eligibility based on information provided by the applicant, including a completed application form and documentation submitted during an eligibility interview, as well as on various screening checks conducted by ATAD personnel during the eligibility review phase.   Screening checks include use by ATAD of HUD’s Enterprise Income Verification (EIV) System to determine whether any household members listed on the application are already receiving subsidies from another public housing authority.  In addition, ATAD is required to screen family behavior and suitability for tenancy by reviewing Housing Court information and by contacting prior and current landlords to determine whether an applicant has had difficulty meeting rent obligations or has a history of disturbing neighbors, destroying property, or having poor housekeeping practices.   If the applicant submits all of the required documentation and passes the EIV, Housing Court and landlord contact screenings, the applicant is then certified to a waiting list.

After being certified to a waiting list, applicants are supposed to be canvassed on an annual basis to ascertain whether they remain interested in renting a NYCHA apartment.   The annual canvas is necessary because some applicants remain on a certified waiting list for many years before being selected for a NYCHA apartment.  Starting in Calendar Year 2017, NYCHA began to mail the annual canvass letters centrally through ATAD using the SIEBEL computer system, rather than rely on individual developments to make the annual inquiry.

When an applicant is selected for an apartment from a certified waiting list, NYCHA is supposed to conduct additional checks before offering that applicant an apartment.  All applicants and household members 16 years of age and older must undergo and pass criminal and sex offender background checks.  In addition, NYCHA development staff are required to perform a second EIV search for all household members listed on the application.

If the applicant passes these additional checks, applicants must then provide the development with rental receipts or letters from their current landlords evidencing their timely payment of rent.   If an apartment is offered, the applicant is required to pay a security deposit and the first month’s rent.   Once the deposit and rent are paid, the applicant may move into the apartment.

 

Audit Findings and Conclusion

While the applicants in our sample were consistently selected from certified waiting lists, as required by TSAP,  NYCHA has limited assurance that the applicants who were offered apartments, and their household members, had been properly screened prior to their moving in.   NYCHA did not maintain adequate documentation to demonstrate that the required criminal and sex offender background checks and post-selection/pre-offer EIV searches were consistently conducted and accurately reported.   This was due in part to NYCHA’s practice of uploading copies of the criminal history and sex offender reports only when they reflected adverse results.   As a result, there was no way to verify from the files that all the required checks were done and that their results were accurately reported.  Similarly, with respect to post-selection/pre-offer EIV searches, in most instances NYCHA records contained no entries or documents showing that the searches had been conducted.  In the absence of such evidence, NYCHA cannot be assured that those required screening measures were consistently taken.

Furthermore, we found that NYCHA’s current practice of performing Housing Court searches and landlord contacts prior to placing an applicant on a certified waiting list—where an applicant may remain for years—means that a significant amount of time may elapse between when those checks are completed and when the applicant is offered an apartment.  Since this information is not updated just prior to a NYCHA apartment being offered to the applicant, there is an increased risk that intervening events could have occurred, unknown to NYCHA, that, if known, would have changed NYCHA’s decision to offer the apartment to the applicant.  In addition, NYCHA did not ensure that it consistently obtained the documentation that is required before an applicant who is selected from a certified waiting list moves into a NYCHA apartment, or that it reviews its waiting list practices on an annual basis to ensure that its tenant selection and assignment procedures are being followed.

 

Audit Recommendations

To address these issues, the audit recommends, among other things, that:

  • NYCHA should ensure that the reports it receives from external sources as a result of its required criminal and sex offender background checks are maintained and readily available at the agency for management review purposes.
  • NYCHA should ensure that required post-selection/pre-offer EIV searches are performed and documented for all members of an applicant’s household after an applicant is selected for an apartment and prior to move-in.
  • NYCHA should consider re-performing Housing Court searches and landlord contacts after applicants are selected for an apartment and just prior to being offered one if a considerable amount of time has elapsed since these searches and contacts were previously performed.
  • NYCHA developments should ensure that all required documentation is obtained and reviewed by development officials before tenant move-ins and that evidence of that review is maintained in tenant folders.
  • NYCHA should ensure that its audit department reviews the compliance of the agency’s waiting list practices with its tenant selection and assignment procedures at least once per year.

 

Agency Response

In its response, NYCHA agreed to fully implement four recommendations (numbers 2, 3, 4 and 8), to partially implement one recommendation (number 9),  to consider implementation of three of the recommendations (numbers 1, 6 and 7), and disagreed with one recommendation (number 5).  The full text of NYCHA’s response is included as an addendum to this report.

[1] A single adult applicant is counted as a family by NYCHA for the purposes of these waiting lists.

[2] Conventional public housing means housing constructed, owned and operated by a public housing agency, in this report, by NYCHA.

[3] SIEBEL interfaces with the TSAP computer system via Fusion middleware.  This interface facilitates the sharing of applicant data between the two systems.   SIEBEL is the system of record for all applicants.