NICE Turns Naughty: How a Computer Forced Tenants Out on the Street

New York City’s Housing Authority is mired in technical errors and bureaucratic backlogs caused by the implementation of a new computer system, according to a Red Tape Report released today by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.

Because of a mountain of un-entered data, NYCHA is erroneously suspending rent payments to tenants and landlords enrolled in the Section 8 program.

As a result, many tenants now face eviction.

The new system was introduced in 2009, and ironically named NICE — NYCHA Improving the Customer Experience. Back then, the initiative was touted as a way to “provide a consistent, reliable and professional standard for interactions with our customers including residents, applicants, and Section 8 participants and landlords.”

But now, technical difficulties spell trouble for landlords, who rely on rent payments by Section 8 to maintain their buildings and stay current on their mortgages. The Section 8 rent program provides housing subsidies to almost 100,000 tenants in New York City.

It’s infuriating to see yet another City computer system failing to deliver the promised results. Months of unpaid rent is far more than a simple glitch”its a full-blown crisis, said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. NYCHA needs to ensure that actual human beings are checking these cases to ensure the agency isn’t wrongfully throwing tenants out on the street and their landlords into debt. Going forward, every constituent deserves a single point of contact to help them through this needless red tape.

The Public Advocate reviewed dozens of cases where NYCHA stopped paying rent or was not paying the correct amount due to the bureaucratic backlog in the inspection, re-certification and renewal processes.

The report recommends that NYCHA:

Cease the automatic suspension of rent payments, and have employees check both future and past suspensions against unentered paper records.

Return to a system of providing each constituent with a single staff member to handle their case, like the one currently used by the Department of Housing Preservation & Development in its Section 8 program.

Respond within one month when tenants update NYCHA about changes to their income affecting their housing subsidy, in order to ensure that rent payments update in time to prevent arrears.

Inspect apartments and respond to landlords notice of repairs in a timely manner to prevent unnecessary suspension of rent payment.

The Legal Aid Society has seen hundreds of families face eviction and homelessness because of NYCHA’s mistakes. NYCHA must clean up its administrative problems and ensure that families are not losing their homes because of NYCHA’s inadequate administration, said Judith Goldiner, Attorney in Charge at the Legal Aid Society.

It is critically important that the issues addressed in the Public Advocates report be resolved as soon as possible by the Citys Housing Authority. The property owners who provide affordable housing need to know that their Section 8 rental payments will be processed timely by NYCHA and that NYCHA staff will be readily accessible when questions and problems arise, said Joe Strasburg, President of the Rent Stabilization Association, which has 25,000 members who own or manage approximately one million apartments throughout the City. These Section 8 payments are essential so that property owners can pay their tax and fuel bills, and all of their other maintenance and operating expenses. We will continue to work with the Housing Authority, the Public Advocate and all other interested parties to resolve these issues.

It is unconscionable that NYCHA has allowed a new computer system to go unchecked and terminate hundreds upon thousands of tenants. Since the institution of the new system, we have seen many more tenants come into our office facing eviction with the same story: ˜I have submitted my recertification packet numerous times and I was still terminated, said Brent Meltzer of South Brooklyn Legal Services. The scary part is that these are only the tenants who are able to find us. What about the elderly and disabled tenants who are on their own now facing eviction because NYCHA couldnt take the time to double check its termination process?

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