Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today that his Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks—who has sparred repeatedly with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office over homeless issues—will handle all city services for the homeless from now on.
The de Blasio administration will make Mr. Banks Commissioner of Social Services, presiding over both HRA’s various welfare and assistance programs and the city’s shelter system and homelessness intervention programs. Mr. Banks took over the Department of Homeless Services on a temporary basis last December upon the resignation of then-Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, and inaugurated a 90-day review in order to better address the city’s mushrooming street population and decrepit temporary housing.
With that review now over, the city has decided the best course is to integrate the two agencies, and leave Mr. Banks in charge of both—even though a Cuomo spokesperson sneered at Mr. Banks, a former Legal Aid attorney, as part of the city’s “management problem.”
“We had an approach, decades old, that was not working for today’s reality, and we also had organizational structures that were decades old,” Mr. de Blasio said.
In February, Mr. Banks clashed bitterly and publicly with Samuel Roberts, Mr. Cuomo’s head of the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, which supervises the city’s homelessness programs. Mr. Roberts’s office leaked a letter complaining of an alleged gang rape at a city shelter to the New York Post.
Mr. Banks responded with a letter he released to the press, denying the incident occurred and accusing Mr. Roberts of a “political media hit.” Mr. Cuomo has repeatedly harped on the homelessness problem as a means of embarrassing Mr. de Blasio.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on today’s announcement.
Mr. Banks said combining HRA and DHS would mean streamlined services to get people off the street and into shelter, out of shelter and into permanent housing and to prevent people struggling to hold onto their apartments from winding up homeless.
“We think the structure that the mayor has put in place today will enable us to make the kind of progress we need to for clients,” said Mr. Banks, who spent his legal career suing the city to force it to provide more services to the homeless. “Over many years, it was often an alphabet soup of services, with clients having to navigate through that. And the structure that mayor has put in place today is essentially no longer a structure.”
The mayor vowed to find “efficiencies” in the merger of the two departments, but promised “absolutely no layoffs.” Ironically, Mayor David Dinkins—in whose administration Mr. de Blasio served—created DHS as a separate office in 1993, spinning it off of HRA, as a way of combating the homelessness crisis of his time.