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A Failure of Basic Management

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A Failure of Basic Management

The real reason Gilbert Taylor stepped down as New York City’s homelessness commissioner December 16, 2015
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Can progressives be trusted to govern effectively? Not unless they do a better job than the de Blasio administration is doing with New York City’s continuing homelessness problem. Gilbert Taylor’s resignation this week as commissioner of the Department of Homeless Services is the latest example of mismanagement in de Blasio’s New York.

At a Tuesday press conference, de Blasio attempted to downplay the significance of Taylor’s departure in bureaucratese. “After we tried a number of changes and reforms, we didn’t feel we were getting as much seamlessness and as much streamlining as we needed,” the mayor said. In reality, Taylor was an administrative disaster as head of an agency with 2,000 employees and a $950 million annual budget. Under Taylor, seasoned DHS employees were quickly replaced with neophyte de Blasio loyalists. The result? Bureaucratic chaos in the form of sloppy paper work, numbers that didn’t match, and documents that went missing.

Most homelessness services are provided not by the city directly, but under contract to nonprofit providers. Such contracts, complex documents running as long as 600 pages, must be approved by the city comptroller if payment is to be made in a timely manner. Officials at Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office were stunned by the poor quality of the work submitted by the DHS and resorted to hand-holding Taylor’s inexperienced staff. Contracts were delayed for months. Some service providers were in danger of failing to make their payroll. Panicked nonprofit executives often complained to the comptroller’s office only to learn that Stringer’s people weren’t holding up the contract—the DHS had never submitted it.

In March, the Department of Inspections issued a scathing report on conditions in DHS shelters for families with children. Some shelter and service providers, the DOI discovered, had been operating without contracts for up to a decade. The DHS had to hustle to get these vendors back under contract. “Ensuring homeless families in need are housed and receive the services they need is our first and foremost priority, and we won’t let any paperwork issues impede that,” a DHS employee said.

The comptroller’s office claims that responsibility for processing DHS contracts was taken from the agency and handed over to the Human Resources Administration. DHS officials disputed this, claiming that the HRA merely provides them with assistance. “We work very closely with the Department of Homeless Services to help prevent and alleviate homelessness,” said HRA commissioner Steven Banks. “As part of that collaboration we were asked to help DHS move forward with the contracting process and we agreed to do so and are helping with the registration process for DHS contracts.”

Mismanagement of the homelessness problem was a significant factor in the failure of the city’s last progressive mayor, David Dinkins. Many parties are to blame for the current crisis but, with the September departure of the experienced Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and now the failure of Taylor as DHS commissioner, de Blasio has to be faulted for failing to put together a complete, effective homelessness-management team.

Banks and Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris will now lead a 90-day review of the city’s homelessness policy. What they really need is an experienced manager who could run the DHS with a modicum of competency.

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