State Has Failed Hundreds Of Mentally Disabled New Yorkers Who Face Eviction, Legal Aid Charges
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 08, 2014

Hundreds of mentally disabled New Yorkers are in danger of eviction because Pathways, a nonprofit that was supposed to arrange their housing was not paying the rent. Some 1,300 eviction notices have gone out in the last four years.

“There are hundreds of cases,” said Judith Goldiner, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society. “The state has known about this for at least two years. It is a scandal. It’s appalling.”

With the number of cases now well past 1,000, the state last week for the first time asked the courts to stay evictions until a financially stable group can take over housing Pathways’ clients.




New York Daily News
EXCLUSIVE: Mentally disabled New Yorkers face eviction as Pathways to Housing program fails to pay landlords
By Greg B. Smith
Sunday, September 7, 2014

Landlords have given 1,300 eviction notices in the last four years to mentally disabled clients of Pathways to Housing, records show. The nonprofit program is mired in debt and as of February, owed landlords $1.6 million in back rent, with the average payment six months overdue.

Thanks for nothing.

Hundreds of mentally disabled New Yorkers have been slapped with eviction notices because a nonprofit that was supposed to arrange their taxpayer-funded housing was not paying their rent, the Daily News has learned.

Landlords have whacked the vulnerable clients of Pathways to Housing with 1,300 eviction notices in the last four years, records show.

Struggling to end this pattern of neglect, the state Office of Mental Health — the primary source of the group’s funding — recently discovered alarming questions about what Pathways has been doing with the millions of taxpayer dollars it has received in the last few years.

In May, mental health referred the matter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for possible criminal charges, according to documents obtained by The News. A spokeswoman for Schneiderman’s office declined to comment.

Pathways is in deep trouble, documents show.

The group is mired in debt, dropping from a $1 million surplus in 2008 to a $3 million deficit last year, records show. As of February, it owed landlords $1.6 million in back rent, with the average payment six months overdue.

In March, the Office of Mental Health questioned an “excessive number of administrative staff on the payroll,” according to a letter from a department official to Pathways Director Georgia Boothe.

The group’s president, Sam Tsemberis, made nearly $300,000 in 2013. Boothe made $174,000 last year, and four other Pathways executives cleared six figures, including a $182,000-a-year psychiatrist.

The agency also questioned $900,000 in “affiliate fees” Pathways paid itself for two years after it went national in 2011 with no written agreement spelling out what the money was for, documents show.

Pathways also directly receives its clients’ Social Security checks. The group is supposed to distribute this money as the client needs it and apply 30% of this income each month toward rent.

It’s not clear what happened to this money while Pathways failed for months to pay clients’ rent. 

Officials familiar with the ongoing inquiry say Pathways insists none of its clients have wound up on the street, though Pathways has admitted some have been forced to stay in hotels until new apartments could be found.

But Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless said hundreds of seriously mentally ill tenants now face the possibility of eviction — a frightening proposition for a fragile population.

“It’s imperative that the Office of Mental Health move immediately to guarantee the back rent due on these apartments to ensure not a single mentally ill man or woman is turned back out onto the streets,” she said. “The vulnerable people OMH is charged with protecting are teetering on the verge of eviction — not next month or in a few months, but today.”

As of this week, more than 100 Pathways tenants have eviction cases pending in Housing Court, records show.

The Legal Aid Society last week discovered the scope of the problem and is raising questions about why the glaring problems with Pathways weren’t addressed sooner.

“There are hundreds of cases,” said Judith Goldiner of Legal Aid. “The state has known about this for at least two years. It is a scandal. It’s appalling.”

With the number of cases now well past 1,000, the state last week for the first time asked the courts to stay evictions until a financially stable group can take over housing Pathways’ clients.

In a letter sent Tuesday to the courts, OMH Deputy Commissioner John Tauriello admitted some of Pathways’ clients “are at significant and imminent risk of eviction.”

“The threat of eviction and certainly eviction itself have the potential to cause great harm to individuals at risk,” he wrote to Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern Fisher.

Fisher consolidated the Pathways cases last week and assigned them to a single judge in each borough.

The state is now moving Pathways’ residents to other providers and declined to renew Pathways’ five-year contract.

“Our first concern is about the vulnerable population this organization is entrusted to care for,” said spokesman Ben Rosen. “OMH has tried working with Pathways to Housing to address their issues, but in March — when it became clear that they were unable to live up to their responsibilities — we moved to sever their relationship with the state.”

In response to questions, a Pathways spokeswoman said, "We have a long history of helping to house our neediest citizens. We are working with the state to ensure a seamless transition."

Court records show Pathways didn’t just miss a few rent payments — in dozens of cases, they managed to rack up months of missed payments.

Pathways is nearly nine months behind paying the rent for one 57-year-old client diagnosed with schizophrenia who’s lived for years in the same Bronx apartment. In January the landlord sued Pathways and the client for more than $18,000 in back rent.

The client, whose family asked that his name be withheld, moved into a Pathways apartment after years in a state mental institution. For years, he turned over his Social Security check to Pathways, which paid the rent on time.

In May, he started getting notices warning that he faced possible eviction and on Aug. 7, a city marshal slapped a notice on his door warning he could be kicked out in six business days.

Last week, Legal Aid attorney Lucy Newman got the judge to postpone the eviction case for two weeks while she finds a way to pay the back rent and stop the eviction.

The client’s sister said her brother “has an issue with displacement or any sort of changes. He’s concerned. He doesn’t know can I live here? Why can’t I stay in my apartment?”

Any switch in doctors, or change in surrounding area, we have to admit him in-patient for a week or two, sometimes for a month.

“We cannot believe this is happening,” the sister said. “This should not be happening to him or anyone else.”

In court papers, Pathways official Alvin Lucas offered little explanation for falling so far behind on the client’s rent, noting only that “due to recent budget cuts and layoffs our organization has been somewhat strained.”