Adams defends decision to weaken right to shelter lawMay 25, 2023
NEW YORK — After accepting tens of thousands of asylum seekers into its care, Mayor Eric Adams wants to suspend a 40-year-old law that guarantees a right to shelter within New York City — an extraordinary step he hopes will spare the local shelter system from collapse and staunch the flow of migrants who have been coming to the five boroughs from the southern border.
The move, taken as more than 70,000 asylum-seekers have come through the city since last spring, stands to further alienate the Democratic mayor from other party leaders and could exacerbate a growing rift with President Joe Biden over the crisis.
New York City is the only major metropolitan area in the country with a shelter requirement. On Tuesday night, City Hall’s legal team filed a request in state court seeking to absolve the administration of that mandate for homeless adults — families with children would be unaffected — should the city’s homeless services department lack the necessary resources to shelter them.
A day later, Adams argued that moment has come.
In the past year, the administration has opened more than 150 emergency shelters and now has more migrants in the system than more established New Yorkers. And while the city’s budget office initially pegged the cost at $4.3 billion through next summer, officials said that figure will likely increase, even as an expected surge at the border has failed to materialize.
“This is one of the most responsible things any leader can do when they realize the system is buckling and we want to prevent it from collapsing,” Adams said Wednesday at an unrelated event in Manhattan.
At a separate press briefing Wednesday, administration officials said the legal maneuver was designed to preserve shelter for those already here and hinted that it could discourage asylum-seekers from traveling to New York in the first place.
“The city is unable to provide care for an unlimited number of people, and it’s already over extended,” said Anne Williams-Isom, the city’s deputy mayor for health and human services. “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 the border.”
What exactly Adams would do if his request were granted is unclear. The mayor’s Chief Counsel Brendan McGuire said Wednesday the city is not seeking to flatly turn people away.
“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,” he said. “That is not the way this administration thinks about this.”
However, the changes being sought would give officials wide latitude to disregard the provisions of the law in case of an emergency. And City Hall aides repeatedly declined to outline possible practical outcomes of such a change.
That lack of clarity has stoked fears from watchdog groups and the Democratic leader of the New York City Council.
“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,” Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said in a joint statement with fellow Democratic Council Member Diana Ayala. “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.”
Conservative Democrats and Republicans in New York lauded the move.
“The left is criticizing Adams, yet not one wokester can explain what will trigger the end of this policy,” Council Minority Leader Joe Borelli, a Republican, said in a statement. “Are we supposed to just pay for these 45,000 people in perpetuity? Should we drum up another couple of billion every year or so for the rest of our lives? When does it end? Are New York’s taxpayers and businesses just supposed to accept paying for the world’s refugee camp?”
Those inverse dynamics — irking fellow party members while winning the plaudits of the GOP — have been mirrored on the national level between Adams and the president, whom he has criticized for leaving the city to deal with the crisis on its own. After weeks of barbs directed at the White House over the issue, Adams was dropped from a list of surrogates supporting Biden’s reelection.
But there are signs that more Democrats agree with the mayor’s posture, even if they aren’t as outspoken. And earlier this week, Adams gathered with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Congress members including Rep. Jerry Nadler to call for expedited work authorization for migrants — something that falls squarely on the White House.