Tuesday, October 21, 2014

De Blasio admits need to rein in homeless storage program

Mayor de Blasio admitted Monday that he needs to rein in an out-of-control city program that pays millions of dollars to store the possessions of homeless people, in the wake of a Post exposé about a woman who ran up more than $200,000 in taxpayer-funded storage bills.
De Blasio blamed Albany lawmakers for the program’s soaring costs, which reached $14.6 million in fiscal year 2014, saying the city is mandated to keep homeless residents’ stuff in storage until they find permanent housing.
“As you know, we are compelled by state law in that area, and I certainly have concerns, because our focus is on housing people not belongings,” de Blasio said. “So I’d like to see resources go to people not belongings, but we have to figure out how to navigate that state law.”
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) said he was stunned to learn from The Post’s page-one story on Monday that Andrea Logan, 54, racked up the astounding storage bills over eight years and that last year the tab to store her belongings had reached $3,585 a month — enough to rent her a well-appointed Manhattan apartment.
“Obviously, it was shocking! I had no idea that we were actually paying to store people’s property when they become homeless,” said Avella, chairman of the Social Services committee.
“If it’s a temporary situation that’s one thing, but for long-term storage, it’s just absurd.”
Avella also fired off a letter demanding a response from the city’s Human Resources Administration, where a source told The Post: “Clearly, there’s a problem.”
Meanwhile, a court ruling from 2010 exposed further abuse of the homeless storage program by a man who had gotten approval to keep his possessions locked away at taxpayer expense — even though he’d been paying rent on a share of a Hell’s Kitchen apartment for more than seven years.
Bankruptcy Court records revealed that Alain Mercier got the benefit in March 2008, despite claiming to own less than $1,400 worth of possessions.
Officials canceled his $144-a-month grant for storage fees in 2009, and Mercier — who was paying his rent with a $350 “enhanced shelter allowance” — sued to hold onto the benefit.
But a judge tossed the case in 2010 because state law didn’t require that his storage bills be paid “for an indefinite period.”
An HRA spokesman said the agency is “concerned about the rates that are charged, and this is one of the reasons why we plan to develop a new process to identify which storage companies and rates will be approved.”
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