The city’s Department of Homelessness Services (DHS) said it would stop contracting Aguila to run the men’s shelter inside the Park View Hotel on West 110th St., across from Central. Park, by the end of the year as he seeks to weed out inadequate providers.
New York City is evicting shelter provider Aguila, Inc. from a Harlem hotel for homeless men and cutting ties with the struggling nonprofit, City Limits has learned.
The city’s Department of Homelessness Services (DHS) said it would stop contracting Aguila to run the men’s shelter inside the Park View Hotel on West 110th Street, across from Central Park. , by the end of the year as it seeks to eliminate inadequate providers. The Park View is the latest site run by Aguila, once one of the city’s largest homeless shelter operators with dozens of facilities in Manhattan and the Bronx.
A DHS spokesperson said the building, which is owned by the famous Podolsky family, could still function as a shelter run by another nonprofit. The city does not appear to have posted a request for proposals for a new operator of shelters on the site.
The move comes amid an ongoing audit of the city’s sprawling shelter system, commissioned by the mayor in February, following a New York Times investigation into allegations of rape and corruption against the leader from another major shelter operator, Bronx Parent Housing Network.
Aguila CEO Ray Sanchez said he was not aware of the city’s decision until contacted by City Limits, but said his company would.[cease] exist without New York City contracts.
Sanchez, the former attorney for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., took over Aguila in 2020 after the previous head of the agency was fired while the state attorney general investigated allegations of financial crimes and corruption. He sought to reform the organization, he said.
He said Aguila had worked with the city to establish a new type of pandemic-related facility in Park View: a “pre-assessment” shelter housing men who may have been exposed to COVID-19 prior to be assigned to shelters for longer stays elsewhere in the city. The former single-occupancy hotel is currently known as the Jardin Central Pre-Assessment Shelter and has received “significant praise” from city officials, Sanchez said.
He said he met with senior city officials in October 2020 who informed him “that almost all of Aguila’s contracts would be canceled or reassigned to other vendors, with the exception of the” Parkview Inn pre-appraisal. / Central Garden “”.
“Nevertheless, the city has expressed its willingness to work with Aguila on new sites,” he added in a statement. “To this end, I have taken several important steps to rehabilitate Aguila, such as implementing new financial controls and recruiting three leading lawyers to Aguila’s board of directors.”
Before the pandemic, the 110th Street building served as a refuge for adult families. It was the frequent subject of tabloid reports.
A resident who spoke to City Limits outside the building on Monday said the men slept in single rooms and shared bathrooms at the 205-unit property overlooking Central Park. He said he arrived on Friday and was told he would be moved to another shelter as early as Wednesday, as is often the case at the transition site.
Three staff members who spoke with City Limits on entering or exiting the building on Monday said they had not heard of any upcoming changes to the shelter.
Less than ten years ago, Aguila operated more than 40 shelters for single adults and families with children. The struggling but politically connected nonprofit has managed to win contracts totaling more than $ 250 million since 2012, despite scathing accounts of financial mismanagement and unsafe conditions uncovered by the city’s comptroller’s office .
“In light of the repeated and systematic failures, DHS should stop using Aguila,” then Comptroller John Liu wrote to Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2013.
At the time, Aguila was headed by former DHS commissioner Robert Hess and frequently provided services at shelters, such as the Apollo Hotel and the Aladdin Hotel, owned by the Podolskys and their associate Alan Lapes. These landlords have been accused of not maintaining their buildings and chasing tenants in order to land lucrative urban housing contracts.
After Liu’s report, the nonprofit continued to win large contracts despite its reputation for poor service and unsafe conditions.
A 2019 audit by the Office of State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli examined five of the 24 shelters Aguila managed at the time. Inspectors rated two of the sites as “poor” and three of the sites “very bad”, where they found cockroaches and rodent droppings inside an oven, mutilated plywood-covered flooring, appliances. broken and a missing fire extinguisher. The Office of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer inspected 10 units of Aguila shelters in a 2020 Infant Safety Audit Report. They documented the “safety and health issues due unsafe sleep and inadequate unit conditions ”every 10.
Aguila received $ 56.1 million from the city in fiscal 2014, the year the Bloomberg administration gave way to Mayor Bill de Blasio. Aguila continued to enter into contracts with the city under de Blasio, including deals totaling $ 47 million in fiscal 2018 and $ 36.4 million in fiscal 2019, according to the database. checkbook.nyc controller contracts. Aguila received $ 16.5 million last year and has so far cashed in $ 6.9 million in the current fiscal year, which began July 1.
In addition to accusations of substandard service, Aguila has been embroiled in recent years in a legal dispute with another provider and a criminal investigation targeting her former senior manager. Ex-CEO Jenny Rivera was fired last year after Attorney General Letitia James’s office investigated her for bribery, money laundering and falsifying business records. James’ office did not immediately respond to a question about the status of this investigation.
Prior to his ouster, Rivera complained in an open letter to de Blasio of the city’s efforts to “systematically dismantle Aguila” by rejecting their contract offers and citing them on bad terms. Rivera was replaced by Sanchez, who unsuccessfully ran for Manhattan District 7 city council earlier this year.
The DHS system-wide audit of its shelters could lead to even more upheaval. The agency’s first deputy commissioner, Molly Park, outlined her strategy to end contracts with problematic suppliers during an April 30 city council hearing on the audit.
“These ongoing transformation efforts include the phasing out of some vendors who do not meet our high standards of service and care, and our comprehensive review of all vendors and contracts continues,” said Park.
She noted that the city had ended its relationship with four shelter operators who were overseeing extreme conditions, especially inside shelters at cluster sites. They include the organizations We Always Care, Housing Bridge, Bushwick Economic Development Corporation, and Children’s Community Services.
“For four years we have been tackling a problem that has built up over the past 40 years, by reshaping the way we do business from top to bottom, including removing non-compliant suppliers and creating a group of new qualified and experienced providers, while upholding our legal and moral obligation to shelter everyone who needs it every night, ”added Park.
Advocates say they hope the audit will promote a safer shelter system and more movement to permanent housing. According to the city’s latest census, 45,616 people, including only 8,495 families with children, were staying in DHS shelters on September 27.
“The right to shelter is a vital part of the city’s safety net, and we support oversight efforts to ensure homeless New Yorkers have safe, accessible and clean shelters with services that meet their needs. needs, ”said the Coalition for the Homeless. Senior Policy Analyst Jacquelyn Simone.
“The city must also redouble its efforts to prevent homelessness before it begins and to move people from shelters to permanent affordable housing as quickly as possible, which will allow for a smaller, more people-centered shelter system. the person, ”she added.