FILE - NY Thomas Dinapoli 1-18-2021

New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli speaks Jan. 18, 2021, during an event in New York.

(The Center Square) – A New York agency needs to do a better job in managing a program that provides funding to older homeowners for essential home repairs. That was a key finding in an audit report released Thursday by Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

New York State Homes and Community Renewal also must improve its promotion of the Residential Emergency Services to Offer Home Repairs to the Elderly (RESTORE) program to all parts of the state, DiNapoli said in a statement. RESTORE provides funding through local administrators, such as cities or nonprofit organizations, to homeowners ages 60 and older so they can make repairs to address a hazardous code violation or deficiency.

Auditors checked three years of records, and from 2017 to 2019, they noted that 49 awards covered 785 projects. However, the $6.1 million in funding only went to administrators that covered 36 of the state’s 62 counties.

“The RESTORE program has been a vital resource for seniors across our state whose homes may be at risk if they can’t make urgent repairs,” DiNapoli said. “Homes and Community Renewal can, and must, do more to meet the emergency needs of New York’s senior citizens and ensure this important program is working and reaching all corners of the state.”

HCR, the state’s affordable housing agency, also must do more to ensure the funds are getting in the right hands. A review of 30 applications screened by the agency’s Office of Community Renewal found that seven, or nearly a quarter, were scored inaccurately.

The scoring miscues meant that at least three applicants were awarded funding even though they should have been denied. It also led to cases where applicants that should have been approved were denied.

Applications are supposed to go through a two-level review, but the report said auditors could not find proof of a second review.

There were also funding distribution issues on both sides of the program as auditors found some local administrators received money but did not perform the required work in a timely manner. In other cases, seniors were left waiting because organizations were left waiting on the state to get the money. Because of that, HCR needs to identify applicants that have demonstrated they cannot distribute funds and it needs to find ways to improve its timeliness issues.

DiNapoli also called on HCR to develop a consistent and transparent scoring process for applications. He also said the agency needs to conduct more outreach to agencies in counties that did not receive funding.

“We found that, generally, the same (organizations) applied for RESTORE funding each year of the audit period,” the reports stated.

HCR received 113 applications over the three years. Those applications came from a total of 58 organizations that cover 50 counties.

In a response letter included with the audit, OCR Deputy Commissioner Crystal Loffler said the report presented “a mere snapshot of a few isolated incidents” while failing to recognize the agency’s overall achievements. Still, the agency reviews and makes changes to its processes on an ongoing basis and will consider the comptroller’s recommendations.

In rebuttal, DiNapoli said the scoring errors discovered represent more than “a few isolated errors” and that those mistakes led to unqualified applicants receiving money.