*Albany, N.Y. – October 4, 2023,* — In an unprecedented move, New York City is seeking to suspend a long-standing legal agreement that mandates it to provide emergency housing to anyone in need. The city’s shelter system, strained under a substantial influx of international migrants since the spring of 2022, prompted this legal challenge, which has sparked significant controversy and concern.
The city’s request, filed late Tuesday, asks a court to allow the suspension of the “right to shelter” when a state of emergency occurs, causing a rapid increase in the shelter population of single adults. Mayor Eric Adams, who is currently on a four-day trip through Latin America, stated that the city’s shelter system is at capacity and overwhelmed by the surge in migrants, particularly from Latin American countries. He intends to discourage potential migrants from coming to New York during his trip.
The right-to-shelter requirement, a landmark policy that has been in place for over four decades, stems from a legal agreement forged in 1981. It obligates New York City to provide temporary housing for every homeless person, making it unique among major American cities. However, the city now argues that this requirement was never intended to address a humanitarian crisis of the magnitude seen with the recent influx of asylum seekers.
Mayor Adams initially celebrated the shelter requirement as a symbol of New York’s empathy toward asylum seekers. Nevertheless, his stance has evolved as the city has spent over a billion dollars to rent hotel spaces, establish large emergency shelters, and offer government services to migrants who arrive without housing or employment prospects.
“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,” stated Mayor Adams, a Democrat. “New York City cannot continue to do this alone.”
As overcrowding in shelters becomes an increasing concern, Mayor Adams recently tightened shelter rules by limiting adult migrants to a maximum stay of just 30 days in city-run facilities.
Legal experts and advocates for the homeless, however, express grave concerns about the city’s move. Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney at The Legal Aid Society, argued that suspending the right to shelter could have dire consequences. “What is the alternative?” Goldfein questioned. “If we do not have a right to shelter, if we are turning people away from the shelter system, if people are now living in the streets, in the subways, in the parks, is that the outcome that they want? That is something we have not seen in decades. I don’t think any New Yorker wants to see that. I don’t think city officials want to see that, but that will be the result if they were to prevail here.”
The legal challenge raises significant questions about the city’s responsibilities to provide housing during emergencies and the potential consequences of altering long-standing policies in response to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. As the court considers the city’s request, the fate of thousands of migrants and the future of New York City’s shelter system hang in the balance.