Housing and addressing the homelessness crisis has been a sore spot of contention between Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council. In their most recent battle last week, Speaker Adrienne Adams and the City Council held a majority vote of 42–8 to override the mayor’s attempt to derail the council’s City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (CityFHEPS) legislative package on July 13.
The bills include removing shelter stay as a precondition to eligibility for CityFHEPS, giving people the ability to demonstrate risk of eviction by presenting a rent demand letter, and changing the eligibility for vouchers from 200% of the federal poverty level to 50% of the area median income.
“New York City is in the midst of an intense eviction crisis that risks pushing more people into homelessness,” said Speaker Adams in a statement. “These bills are aimed at removing barriers faced by the lowest-income New Yorkers to accessing vouchers that can help them avoid losing their homes and becoming unhoused. During a time of record homelessness, it is critical that we respond with the urgency and strength needed to address the scale of this crisis.”
The contention stems from the asylum seeker crisis, where thousands of migrants have arrived in the city for the past year, and other compounded housing issues that put a substantial strain on the city’s resources and lower-income individuals and families. Leadership can’t seem to agree about how to solve the problem.
Back in May, Mayor Adams filed an application controversially seeking “modification” and “relief” from the city’s long-held right-to-shelter law. A few days later, the City Council passed the CityFHEPS bills to remove barriers to voucher eligibility and rental assistance, immediately putting the mayor’s more reserved camp at odds with the more liberal council.
The bills were considered “veto-proof,” but Mayor Adams argued that the laws would do more harm than good and implemented his veto anyway on Friday, June 23. He did, however, agree with ending the 90-day city shelter stay eligibility mandate. In an op-ed for the Daily News, he explained that the other bills in the legislative package would cost the city “$17 billion over the next five years.”
By July, organizations like Women in Need (WIN), the largest provider of shelter and supportive housing for homeless families, and the Community Service Society of New York (CSSNY) came out with their own cost projections for the council’s bills. They found that there could be an “annual savings of $730 million given the estimated costs of the current system and potential reform of CityFHEPS.”
The council also posted a rebuttal that went through the op-ed almost line by line, refuting each of the mayor’s arguments with support from plenty of on-the-ground nonprofits.
“During his campaign, Mayor Adams publicly pledged to give youth experiencing homelessness in the Department of Youth and Community Development shelter system access to CityFHEPS vouchers within the first hundred days of his term,” said Executive Director of the Coalition for Homeless Youth Jamie Powlovich in a statement. “Not only did he fail to keep his promise, but he also vetoed the bills that will satisfy that pledge.”
Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), said the mayor’s emergency approach to housing immigrants during the asylum seeker crisis has remained short-sighted, costly, and ineffective. He thanked City Council members for the vote to override the mayor.
“This has ultimately exacerbated the load on our already-overburdened shelter system,” said Awawdeh. “Thanks to NYC Council Speaker Adams and the NYC Council, more New Yorkers will finally be able to leave,…skip entering our overburdened shelter system, and get into permanent housing and on the road to self-reliance and stability. By relieving pressure on the shelter system, we hope that this will mean a reduction in the use of HERRCs, which are often located in neighborhoods with poor access to public transportation [and] essential services, and don’t always have basic amenities like showers or proper access to bathrooms, making them ineffective locations for both the short-term and long-term needs of new arrivals.”
As imagined, Mayor Adams was less than pleased with the override. He said that his administration’s efforts on housing have been working since he agreed to lift the 90-day rule a few weeks before the override, and have put a “record number” of people into permanent housing using CityFHEPS vouchers last fiscal year.
“The good news is that our efforts to house more New Yorkers, even in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, are working,” he said in a statement. “Unlike the council, we do not, however, believe that New Yorkers should spend $17 billion on a package of bills that would put New Yorkers in shelter at the back of the line for a CityFHEPS voucher and make it harder for them to find permanent housing. We will continue to do all that we can to build more housing and tackle decades of exclusionary zoning policies that have prevented our city from building an adequate housing supply. We are reviewing our options and next steps.”
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.