NYC can deny housing to adult migrants in some cases under landmark right-to-shelter settlement

NEW YORK — New York City will be able to deny housing to adult migrants in some cases under a modification of the city’s landmark right-to-shelter law adopted Friday as part of a court settlement that also includes some new shelter rules and restrictions.

The modification is the result of months of settlement talks between city lawyers and the Legal Aid Society initiated after Mayor Eric Adams’ team filed court papers in October asking a judge for permission to suspend right to shelter, which requires the city to provide a bed to anyone who needs it.

Under a rule implemented by Adams in September, single adult migrants can only stay in the same shelter bed for 30 days before they must vacate it and reapply for a new placement if they need it. That rule was at the time panned by homeless advocates as an attempt to weaken right-to-shelter protections without formally suspending them, while Adams said it’s meant to encourage migrants to find their own housing.

Building on the 30-day rule, the fresh settlement will allow the city to outright deny a single adult migrant the opportunity to reapply for shelter after the first 30 days “unless the individual has demonstrated they have some sort of extenuating circumstance necessitating a short additional amount of time in shelter, or have received a reasonable accommodation due to a disability,” according to a press release from Adams’ office.

Speaking outside Manhattan Supreme Court after a hearing where the settlement was unveiled, Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Adams’ corporation counsel, said an extenuating circumstance could, for instance, be a migrant needing additional time in shelter in order to remain housed while waiting to move into an apartment with a lease start date 10 days away.

Hinds-Radix and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Anne Williams-Isom wouldn’t say whether a migrant struggling to find work qualifies as an extenuating circumstance, only telling reporters the city will assess such matters on a case-by-case basis.

Migrant families with children, who are allowed to stay in the same shelter for 60 days before they must reapply, cannot be denied shelter under the settlement. Longtime New Yorkers who are homeless and need shelter are not impacted by the settlement either.

The ability to deny shelter is temporary and only enforceable as long as the state of emergency for the city’s migrant crisis remains in effect, the settlement holds.

In a written statement, the mayor said the settlement provides his administration with “additional flexibility during times of crisis.” He also offered an olive branch to Legal Aid, which has since 1981 been court-appointed to ensure the city is complying with right-to-shelter rules.

“Thank you to the court and The Legal Aid Society, for recognizing that the status quo cannot continue and for giving New York City additional tools to address this crisis while ensuring that the most vulnerable can continue to receive the support they need,” the mayor’s statement said. “Like impacted cities across the country, we cannot bear the brunt of this crisis alone and continue to seek significant support from our federal partners, including expedited work authorizations, more funding, and a national resettlement strategy.”

Though the settlement effectively ends a key right-to-shelter protection for single adult migrants, the underlying 1981 consent decree that first established the law is not being modified — a point Legal Aid highlighted after Friday’s announcement.

“This settlement safeguards the right to shelter in the consent decree, ensuring single adults’ — both long-time New Yorkers and new arrivals — access to shelter, basic necessities and case management to transition from shelter to housing in the community,” Adriene Holder, Legal Aid’s chief civil practice attorney, said.

The Adams administration also made a number of concessions as part of the settlement that Legal Aid celebrated.

That includes a requirement for the administration to end the use of its so-called “waiting rooms” as temporary shelters. Migrants have slept on floors or chairs for days in such rooms while waiting for a shelter bed to open up after reapplying for one.

In addition, the settlement stipulates that the city will need to start allowing single adults under age 23 to stay in the same shelter bed for 60 consecutive days instead of the previous 30. The city will also need to start extending shelter stays beyond the 30 and 60 day limits for single adults and families who can prove they are “making diligent efforts to locate a place to stay outside of the shelter system,” according to Legal Aid.

Holder said her group will keep a close eye on the administration to make sure it complies with all provisions of the settlement.

“We will very closely monitor the city’s compliance with this settlement and we won’t hesitate to seek judicial intervention should there be noncompliance,” Holder said.

The settlement, which effectively ends the mayor’s push to roll back right to shelter, comes as some 65,000 migrants remain housed in city shelters. According to Adams’ office, the city has to date spent more than $4 billion on providing housing and services for the migrants, most of whom are hoping to claim asylum in the U.S. after fleeing poverty and violence in their Latin American home countries.