New York City Asks for Relief From Its Right-to-Shelter Mandate

Mayor Eric Adams asked a judge for permission on Tuesday to relieve New York City of its unique and longstanding obligation to provide shelter for anyone who asks, asserting that the immense influx of asylum seekers has overwhelmed its ability to accommodate all those in need.

“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,” Mr. Adams said in a statement. “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.”

In a letter to Deborah Kaplan, the deputy chief administrative judge for New York City Courts, the city’s lawyers asked for changes to the 1981 consent decree that set New York’s requirement to provide shelter for anyone who applies for it.

The city asked that the wording be changed to allow it to deny shelter to homeless adults and adult families if it “lacks the resources and capacity to establish and maintain sufficient shelter sites, staffing, and security to provide safe and appropriate shelter.”

The city did not request relief from its obligations to provide shelter to families with children.

Mr. Adams said that he was not seeking to permanently end the right to shelter. But he said that the 1981 consent decree, issued in the Callahan v. Carey case, could not have anticipated “a mass influx of individuals entering our system — more than doubling our census count in slightly over a year.”

The letter to Judge Kaplan underscored that theme, saying that the “unprecedented demands on the city’s shelter resources confront the city defendant with challenges never contemplated, foreseeable or indeed, even remotely imagined.”

City officials say more than 70,000 migrants have arrived since the spring and more than 40,000 are in the city’s care. There are more than 81,000 people in the city’s main shelter system.

The city has struggled to find places to house migrants, opening more than 150 sites to house the newcomers, including 140 hotels. Migrants have also been housed in a cruise ship terminal in Brooklyn and in tents on Randall’s Island. A plan to place migrants in school gyms was quickly reversed last week after protests.

Mr. Adams says the city will spend as much as $4.3 billion through June 2024 to feed and house the asylum seekers. It has spent more than $1 billion so far. Camille Joseph Varlack, Mr. Adams’s chief of staff, said during an interview Tuesday on NY1 that the city wanted to sit down with all of the parties in the consent decree and “revisit all of it,” in light of the record number of people under the city’s care during an “unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”

This is the second time the Adams administration has sought relief from the right-to-shelter mandate. Earlier this month, the mayor issued an executive order that suspended rules requiring families to be placed in private rooms with bathrooms and kitchens, not in group settings, and that set a nightly deadline for newly arriving families to be placed in shelters.

The Legal Aid Society, which filed the litigation that led to the right to shelter, and the Coalition for the Homeless issued a joint statement strongly opposing the city’s move. The groups argued that the changes would hurt homeless New Yorkers as much as asylum seekers.

“The administration’s request to suspend the long-established state constitutional right that protects our clients from the elements is not who we are as a city,” the groups said. “New Yorkers do not want to see anyone, including asylum seekers, relegated to the streets. We will vigorously oppose any motion from this administration that seeks to undo these fundamental protections that have long defined our city.”

Brad Lander, the city comptroller, said the Adams administration was not doing enough to relieve the pressure on the shelter system by moving people more quickly into permanent housing. Mr. Adams opposes legislation from the City Council that would eliminate a rule requiring people to be in shelter for 90 days before becoming eligible for city-funded housing vouchers.

“Attempting to rollback the Right to Shelter while lobbying against legislation that will help get more homeless New Yorkers into their own apartments is wrong,” said Christine Quinn, the former City Council speaker and chief executive of WIN, a network of shelters for women and children that has housed more than 270 migrant families. “It is both bad policy and bad politics, and New Yorkers will not stand for it.”

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