1/23/13

CCG to Liu: Pull DHS' Emergency Contracting Authority

The Coalition for Carroll Gardens has called on city comptroller John Liu to stop the city's Department of Homeless Services from registering an "emergency contract" with Housing Solutions USA/Aguila, Inc. for a ten-unit 170-bed homeless shelter in a condo building at 165 West 9th Street in Brooklyn.

The building is owned by Alan Lapes, whose prior involvement with DHS and Housing Solutions USA/Aguila raises questions about the vendor selection process.

Six months ago, the city gave DHA authority to enter into "emergency" contracts for homeless shelters. DHS, according to CCG, has fraudulently used its authority to circumvent the city's standard contracting rules.

CCG has asked Liu to turn down a request by DHS to extend its emergency contracting authority, which expires on January 26, preventing DHS from registering a contract with Aguila Inc./Housing Solutions USA.

Audit reports by Liu's office in 2010 and 2011 found that DHS had mis-managed its contracts with Aguila Inc., now headed by former DHS Commissioner Robert Hess, and other vendors.

Liu's office cited Hess, while DHS commissioner, for ignoring persistent overbilling, code violations and management lapses by Aguila that ultimately put vulnerable homeless residents at risk.

According to CCG, Aguila is no more accountable now. In the past six months, there have been three major fires at Aguila/Housing Solutions USA shelters: at West 95th Street in August; at West 45th Street in September; and at a family shelter in the Bronx just before Christmas. Two children were hospitalized in critical condition as a result of the fire.

Aguila and Lapes, said CCG, now stand to collect half a million dollars a month from the city -- ten times market rent -- by crowding 170 homeless men into a 10-family building, in violation of city building, zoning and safety codes.

In a letter delivered to the Comptroller's office on Tuesday, CCG Chair Steven Miller called on Liu to deny DHS's request for an extension to get the contract with Aguila/Housing Solutions USA signed, and has sought the support of local elected representatives.

Brooklyn Supreme Court Case

A temporary restraining order, issued in a lawsuit filed by CCG to stop the city from opening the shelter, is in effect until January 25 at 9:30 AM, when the next hearing will take place in Room 421 at Brooklyn Supreme Court.

City Council Hearing on Emergency Procurements
 
The City Council has now weighed in on the emergency procurement issue, scheduling a public hearing on Monday, January 28 at 1 PM in the Committee Room on the 16th Floor at 250 Broadway in Lower Manhattan.

Apparently, the Council shares CCG's concern that DHS has used the emergency contracting loophole to evade city oversights and dole out political favors.

According to a 2003 New York Post investigation, a small, secretive cartel of hotel owners and landlords controlled virtually all of the city's for-profit shelter services -- free of contracts and free of competitive bids.

In the aftermath of the expose, DHS vowed to clean up its act, but the same players and practices remain in place today.

CCG says it seeks a transparent public process involving all stakeholders.

Steven Miller at S.MILLER@CCGBROOKLYN.COM is the CCG media contact.
PDF of the press release: ccgbrooklyn.com/CCG_PR_JAN22.pdf.

In the past two years, the city has opened six new homeless shelters in rapidly-gentrifying Brooklyn.

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