Staffing shortages are still disrupting New York City services

Ahead of a hiring freeze, the mayor’s management report showed how insufficient staffing hampered some agencies’ operations.

New York City agencies already had more than 20,000 vacancies. Now, there’s a hiring freeze coming.

New York City agencies already had more than 20,000 vacancies. Now, there’s a hiring freeze coming. Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

The number of new miles of bus lanes in New York City was down 40% compared to the previous fiscal year. It’s taking longer to place homeless New Yorkers in units set aside for them in new housing construction. Timely processing of applications for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and cash assistance benefits has plummeted.

Those were just a few of the negative outcomes that were at least partially blamed on staffing shortages in a new report from Mayor Eric Adams’ administration on city agencies’ performance.

The mayor’s management report for fiscal year 2023, covering July 2022 though June 2023, was the first of these annual reports that entirely covers a year of the Adams administration. The report for the previous fiscal year, which included the last six months of then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure and the first six months of Adams’ term, also showed troubling signs that staffing shortages were disrupting the delivery of key city services.

But unlike this time last year, the city is now facing a hiring freeze that would keep agencies from filling many of the positions that could remedy the delays and disruptions in some of the city’s operations and services. Last week, the Adams administration announced another round of budget cuts, citing the costs of sheltering and providing resources to the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers in the city’s care since last spring. The city will also implement a hiring freeze effective Oct. 1, barring agencies from hiring for any positions that aren’t related to public health, public safety or revenue generation. It’s the first time the Adams administration will have instituted a hiring freeze.

The city’s staffing woes were scattered throughout the more than 500-page report card, showing that retention and hiring issues caused backlogs and inefficiencies at an array of city agencies.

While headcount at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development has grown since the prior fiscal year, the report noted that wait times for some housing subsidies and benefits have slogged because of insufficient staffing. The median time it took to approve a household for an affordable housing lottery unit increased 18% over the previous year – from 163 days to 192 days – because of an increase in the number of available units without a comparable increase in staffing.

The department was successful in moving more formerly homeless New Yorkers into units set aside for them in new construction. But the wait time for placement in those units increased from an average of 203 days to 243 days since last year because an increase in the volume of available units wasn’t coupled with more staffing.

On the other hand, the wait time to place formerly homeless New Yorkers in affordable units that are volunteered for that use by developers – rather than directly financed by the city – decreased by 72 days, in part because of fewer administrative hurdles with those units.

At the Department of Transportation, attrition led to a decline in the number of bus lane miles produced. The department installed just 7.8 new miles of bus lanes, down from 12.9 miles the previous year, citing the loss of “key staff members critical to the planning and execution of transit projects” as well as the long duration of bus lane projects and “inherent cyclicity” in their production.

The New York City Housing Authority’s mold remediation work also fell short in part because of vacancies and staff turnover, the report said. While NYCHA made some progress on preventing the recurrence of mold in public housing units, it fell far short of key thresholds set out in a mold action plan under NYCHA’s overall agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In fiscal year 2023, 28% of simple mold repairs were completed within seven days, while roughly 4% of complex mold repairs were completed within 15 days. The target for both indicators was 95%.

Along with attributing those shortfalls to staffing, the report also pointed to a lack of capital funding to repair aging infrastructure, scheduling problems, and a backlog in mold and leak work orders.

Adams has taken some steps to try to fill agency vacancies – which predate his administration – including hosting hiring halls around the city, easing residency requirements for some badly needed titles and launching a small remote work pilot this summer.

But the mayor’s management report showed that some agencies still have significant vacancy rates. Despite lifting residency requirements for some attorney positions late last year, the headcount at the city Law Department continued to decline and fall short of the authorized budget level. Staffing levels at the Department of Investigation, the Human Resources Administration, the Administration for Children’s Services, the Department for Homeless Services, and the Office of Technology and Innovation have also declined over the past year.

The report does boast some bright spots, including instances in which agencies were able to bring staff on board, such as increased staff for housing voucher processing and homeless prevention, according to the report, as well as increased staff at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to carry out inspections of group child care centers.

But with a hiring freeze on the horizon, many of the city’s current 20,000 vacancies won’t be able to be filled. It’s unclear exactly what positions will qualify as exempt based on the public health, public safety or revenue generation rules, but that will be determined by City Hall and the Office of Management and Budget.

City lawmakers, advocacy groups and nonprofits continue to push back against the planned budget cuts. A group of progressive elected officials, including Comptroller Brad Lander, Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso and City Council Members Shahana Hanif, Jennifer Gutiérrez, Lincoln Restler and Carmen De La Rosa are set to protest the cuts at City Hall on Tuesday.