Citing influx of migrants, Adams looks to suspend NYC’s right to shelter rule

May 25, 2023

Citing the arrival of thousands of migrants in the city, Mayor Eric Adams wants to suspend a decades-old rule guaranteeing shelter to anyone. Adams on Tuesday filed an application with a judge asking to alter the city’s right to shelter rule, which guarantees any homeless person looking for shelter access to temporary housing. The mayor is looking to rewrite the rule, which has been in place for 40 years, to allow the city to suspend the right for homeless adults when it “lacks the resources and capacity to establish and maintain sufficient shelter sites,” according to Gothamist.

Adams claims that he is not looking to permanently end the city’s right to shelter, but is looking to gain “clarity from the court” as the city is unable to care for an “unlimited number of people” and is already providing for more than it can handle. However, the city did not request an end to the rules which require it to provide shelter to families with children.

“From the start, let us be clear, that we are in no way seeking to end the right to shelter. Today’s action will allow us to get clarity from the court and preserve the right to shelter for the tens of thousands in our care — both previously unhoused individuals and asylum seekers,” Adams said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Given that we’re unable to provide care for an unlimited number of people and are already overextended, it is in the best interest of everyone, including those seeking to come to the United States, to be upfront that New York City cannot single-handedly provide care to everyone crossing our border. Being dishonest about this will only result in our system collapsing, and we need our government partners to know the truth and do their share.”

Enacted in 1981, right to shelter requires the city to provide temporary housing for every homeless person who requests it. The policy has faced opposition in the past from former Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani who both tried and failed to get rid of the rule.

New York is the only major city in the United States with such a rule.

The administration’s request comes a few weeks after Adams issued an executive order that allowed officials to bypass certain parts of the rule, as first reported by Gothamist. The order suspends certain minimum shelter requirements, including a rule that requires those seeking housing to get a bed in a specific time frame, and erases a requirement that families are given units with access to a bathroom, refrigerator, and kitchen.

Adams also voiced his opposition to a series of bills expected to be approved by the City Council Thursday that would require people to stay in homeless shelters for at least 90 days before they become eligible for city-funded rental vouchers, according to the New York Times.

The bill will also expand the eligibility to receive vouchers, including those who receive written demands from their landlord requesting them for unpaid rent. Adams claimed that the bill would put billions “on the back of New York taxpayers and prevent the city from allocating resources to those “most in need.”

The city’s application was met with widespread criticism from housing advocates and elected officials, who say ending right to shelter will lead to more people living outdoors, like the mass homeless encampments found in other cities.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala released a joint statement expressing criticism of the Mayor’s application to alter shelter protections:

“The Administration’s troubling application, which appears to pursue an elimination of more than 40 years of legal protections for our city’s most vulnerable, leaves in question whether New Yorkers will be left to sleep on our streets, parks, roadway shoulder exits, and subways,” Adams and Ayala said.

“It’s beyond disturbing that so much effort is being spent on rolling back protections for all New Yorkers, instead of implementing immediate and long-term solutions that can help us avoid and move out of shelters. The Council’s CityFHEPS housing voucher reforms would relieve pressure on the shelter system by supporting the transition of New Yorkers left in the system for far too long, while reducing the exorbitant spending on emergency shelters.”

Earlier this month, the city opened its first arrival center for migrants at The Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown. The center became the ninth Humanitarian Emergency Response and Relief Center and one of the 140 shelters that have opened across NYC since the start of the crisis.

At this point, NYC has cared for upwards of 73,000 asylum seekers and is actively caring for more than 44,000, putting a devastating strain on the city’s shelter system. The crisis comes as the five boroughs already experience a housing crisis, with record-high rents and a shortage of available housing.

The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless said this week they plan to “vigorously oppose any motion from this this administration that seeks to undo these fundamental protections that have long defined our city.”


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