New York City Moves to Suspend Right-to-Shelter Mandate

Mayor Eric Adams is seeking to suspend New York City’s longstanding obligation to provide shelter to anyone who asks for it, as officials struggle to find housing for thousands of migrants arriving from the southern border.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Adams asked a judge to allow the city to put aside its legal obligation to provide shelter to single adults, arguing in court that the city should be able to temporarily lift the mandate during an emergency.

“With more than 122,700 asylum seekers having come through our intake system since the spring of 2022, and projected costs of over $12 billion for three years, it is abundantly clear that the status quo cannot continue,” Mr. Adams said in a statement.

In a letter to Erika Edwards, a New York Supreme Court justice, the city’s lawyers asked for the 1981 consent decree that requires the city to provide shelter to be temporarily suspended. They also asked for the rules to be suspended whenever the governor or mayor declares a state of emergency and there is an influx of people seeking shelter.

The Legal Aid Society, which filed the lawsuit that led to the right to shelter, and the Coalition for the Homeless issued a joint statement strongly opposing the city’s move. They said that the change would “gut” protections for new arrivals and for longer-term New Yorkers.

“This is the city’s most significant and damaging attempt to retreat on its legal and moral obligation to provide safe and decent shelter for people without homes since that right was established 42 years ago,” the groups said.

“Street homelessness would balloon to a level unseen in our city since the Great Depression,” they added.

The city’s letter comes as Mr. Adams leaves on Wednesday for a four-day trip to Latin America to witness the flow of migrants at the Darién Gap and to dissuade asylum seekers from traveling to New York City. Mr. Adams, a Democrat in his second year in office, has been urging President Biden for months to declare a federal emergency and to provide the city with significant federal funding.

A top aide to Mr. Adams, Ingrid Lewis-Martin, recently called on the federal government to “close the borders.” Mr. Adams sought to distance himself from those comments on Tuesday, reiterating his position that the border should not be closed, but that migrants should be sent to other cities.

“We believe the borders should remain open,” the mayor said at a news conference. “That’s the official position of this city, but we have made it clear there should be a decompression strategy so that we could properly deal with the volume that’s coming into our city.”

Mr. Adams said that the city’s landmark right-to-shelter protections were “never intended to apply to the extraordinary circumstances our city faces today.” He said that the city was not seeking to end the 1981 consent decree, which was issued in the Callahan v. Carey case. But he argued that New York City should face the same rules as other cities in the state.

The new letter is part of a monthslong legal battle over the city’s right-to-shelter mandate. In May, the city asked for changes to the mandate. Since then, the Biden administration announced that it would grant work permits to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants.

In the letter, the city said it should be relieved of its obligations when the number of homeless people seeking shelter grew by 50 percent over a certain time period, but that the exemption would not apply if there was a housing emergency.

Christine Quinn, the former City Council speaker and chief executive of WIN, a network of shelters for women and children, said that the city was trying to roll back protections for single adults seeking shelter, but that policy changes could also affect families with children.

“It will start New York down a slippery slope that will undoubtedly put families with children in harm’s way,” she said. She said she was also concerned that the city had threatened to put mothers and children in group shelters.

Mr. Adams continued to criticized President Biden on Wednesday night, saying at an event with business leaders that he could not remain quiet when the cost of providing services to migrants was mounting and would force him to cut other programs that help New Yorkers in poverty.

“On this issue, I believe the White House is wrong,” Mr. Adams said.

Mr. Adams said he planned to speak with local media on his trip to Mexico, Ecuador and Colombia to let potential asylum seekers know that they would not find hospitable conditions if they came to New York.

“We are not going to be in a five-star hotel, as many people have told us,” he said. “If that can resonate and start that conversation there, I’m going to try.”

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