Time’s up. Wednesday marks the deadline that New York City Council leaders set for Mayor Eric Adams’ administration to demonstrate that it is acting to expand access to city rental vouchers, or face legal repercussions.
The City Council warned in a letter to the administration last month that they were prepared to sue to compel the city to implement a package of legislation intended to significantly expand access to CityFHEPS rental vouchers for homeless New Yorkers and people facing eviction. “If (the Department of Social Services) does not show it has taken concrete, verifiable steps to implement these local laws by February 7, 2024, the Council will have no other option but to take legal action,” City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams wrote in the Jan. 9 letter.
The Department of Social Services had indicated late last year that it wasn’t acting to fully implement the package of laws. The Legal Aid Society also separately threatened to sue if the city doesn’t implement the laws.
But the council’s legal threat isn’t quite as fast-acting as triggering a lawsuit at the stroke of midnight. No final decisions on next steps had been made by the City Council as of late Tuesday afternoon. Discussions between the administration and the council about where the implementation stands could go later into Wednesday.
It doesn’t appear that the administration has changed its mind about the laws. In a statement Tuesday evening, a City Hall spokesperson pointed to the city’s ongoing budget demands, including the influx of asylum-seekers, before arguing that implementing the laws will prove too costly. “With limited state and federal aid, and an unprecedented $7 billion budget gap that must be closed next month, the city has been forced to make difficult choices to cut services and spending to balance its budget, as required by law,” the spokesperson said. “More importantly, this legislation and its $17 billion price tag will make it harder for New Yorkers in shelter to move into permanent housing at a time when there are 10,000 households in shelter that are eligible for CityFHEPS and force more painful budget cuts onto working-class New Yorkers.”
The laws, initially passed in May, will expand access and eligibility to the rental vouchers. The legislation prohibits sources of income or work status from being used to determine eligibility for the vouchers. One bill also eliminated the long-standing requirement that an individual needs to spend 90 days in a shelter before being eligible for the vouchers. Agreeing with that aspect of the package, Mayor Adams took emergency action to suspend that rule on his own shortly after the bills passed.
But the mayor has fought against the other aspects of the package that expand access to vouchers, arguing that they will lead to substantial financial costs and a deprioritization of people in most desperate need of housing. The mayor vetoed the bills in June, and the City Council voted to override the veto in July.
The Adams administration has continued to voice its concerns about implementation in the months since. Citing “substantial financial, operational and legal issues,” Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park said in a December letter that three of the four bills “cannot be implemented at this time,” City Limits reported last month. Wasow Park said in the letter that the bills present a legal issue because they encroach in an area where the state has authority. The City Council has previously voted to raise the value of the vouchers, however, and has disputed the administration’s estimated cost of implementing the expansion.
While the City Council’s immediate next steps were not clear as of Tuesday evening, the council would need to pass a resolution authorizing the council to take legal action if a lawsuit is on the table. Depending on how the body proceeds, the council could put forward such a resolution as soon as Thursday, during its stated meeting.
A lawsuit would mark an escalation in conflict between the administration and council. Just last week, the council delivered a blow to the mayor in voting to override his vetoes of two law enforcement-related bills that the council passed late last year. This council has now voted to override mayoral vetoes three times – the first instance being for this rental voucher expansion. But suing the administration is an even less commonly used tool, and this would be the first instance of this council brandishing it against Mayor Adams.
“It is imperative that the administration takes concrete and meaningful steps to implement these new laws,” Speaker Adams said in a January statement when the council raised the prospect of legal action. “Keeping New Yorkers at risk of eviction in their homes and providing pathways to stable, permanent housing from shelters must continue to be a priority for this city.”