(Bloomberg) -- New York City Mayor Eric Adams has asked a judge to temporarily suspend a 42-year-old court ruling requiring the city to shelter homeless adults amid a surge in asylum seekers that’s weighed on the municipal budget.
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The request, dated Tuesday and filed by a lawyer for the city, asks for permission to suspend the obligations when the city lacks the “resources and capacity to establish and maintain sufficient shelter.”
New York’s unique “right to shelter” law is the result of a 1981 legal settlement during the administration of Mayor Edward Koch. The mandate has forced the city to turn to securing hotels to house migrants. It has opened 130 emergency shelters and eight temporary facilities to manage the surge.
“This ongoing flood of asylum-seekers arriving in New York City from the southern border represents a crisis of national, indeed international dimension; yet, the challenges and fiscal burden of this national crisis have fallen almost exclusively upon the city,” Assistant Corporation Counsel Jonathan Pines wrote to Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Deborah Kaplan.
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Pines said that as of May 15, more than 44,000 asylum-seekers remain in locations provided by the city, with more arriving each day. Including the “resident homeless” population, New York’s Department of Homeless Services is currently sheltering more than 81,000 individuals — a 75 % increase from the previous year, according to the filing.
“The unfortunate reality is that the city has extended itself further than its resources will allow, placing in jeopardy the city’s obligations to manage its fisc in order to maintain critical infrastructure and services and provide for the well-being of all of its citizens,” Pines said.
Even if a suspension is granted, Adams’s move faces certain court challenges from advocacy groups.
In a joint statement, Legal Aid and the Coalition for the Homeless promised to fight the Adams administration’s efforts to amend the ruling.
“New Yorkers do not want to see anyone, including asylum seekers, relegated to the streets,” they said. “We will vigorously oppose any motion from this Administration that seeks to undo these fundamental protections that have long defined our city.”
At a press conference at City Hall Wednesday, city officials said they weren’t seeking to undo New York’s right-to-shelter rule, but are rather seeking “clarity” from the court on whether or not the city has to provide shelter even when it can’t afford to do so.
“The intention here is not to get a court order so that we can shut the door and have thousands of people living on the street,” said the mayor’s Chief Counsel Brendan McGuire.
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Former social services commissioner and head of Legal Aid Steve Banks questioned the administration’s logic.
“It is hard to see how asking a court to suspend the right to shelter that is secured by the New York State Constitution is a winning strategy because there will be far more people sleeping on the streets if the City’s request is granted, and that is in no one’s interest,” Banks said in an emailed statement.
The costs associated with the migrant crisis are ballooning beyond the city’s ability to afford them, city officials have repeatedly warned. The cost of sheltering and caring for the migrant population will reach $4.3 billion by July 1 of next year, according to city estimates — but the total cost could be much larger if recent immigration trends continue, Adams said Wednesday.
“When you look at the numbers, when you get 4,200 in a week, when you get 900 in a day, we have to continue to shift this number because this is going beyond our expectation,” he said.
The Adams administration’s effort to amend the city’s right-to-shelter mandate are not unprecedented. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted to institute a rule requiring homeless adults to work in order to be eligible to remain in shelter, which was blocked by the courts.
In 2008, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg settled a class action lawsuit fought by four successive mayoral administrations over adequate housing for homeless families. The former mayor is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
--With assistance from Immanual John Milton.
(Adds comment from ex-Department of Social Services commissioner in 12th paragraph.)
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