Adams administration denies rift with state over asylum crisis

A letter from the state this week alleged a “lack of coordination” from the city in some aspects of its handling of the migrant influx.

Deputy Mayor Fabien Levy said everything is hunky dory with the state.

Deputy Mayor Fabien Levy said everything is hunky dory with the state. Annie McDonough

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration insists that collaboration between the city and state on the asylum crisis is strong, despite a letter from the state this week that alleges a “lack of coordination” from the city in some aspects of its handling of the crisis.

“A lack of coordination from the City to date has impeded the State's ability to foster productive relationships and discussions, including with the counties and localities that have offered to help,” the state’s letter read. 

But at a briefing at City Hall on Wednesday, newly crowned Deputy Mayor for Communications Fabien Levy reiterated Mayor Eric Adams’ comments earlier in the day that there isn’t tension with the state. 

“We're very appreciative of the state’s collaboration with us every single day. We are also very appreciative that it sounds like, in that letter, that the state wants to do more. And we welcome that,” Levy said, when asked about the state’s contention that it has identified a list of state-owned and other properties that could temporarily shelter more than 3,000 asylum-seekers, but which it said the city has not made use of.

City Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol said that there were various reasons why the city has not used those sites. “There's a number of sites that have significant community impacts. There are sites that have environmental factors like flooding issues,” Iscol said.

The letter in question, first reported by The New York Times, was sent by an attorney for Gov. Kathy Hochul. The state, city and the Legal Aid Society are all in court to ensure that the city’s right to shelter is being met as the city faces an unprecedented influx of asylum-seekers. More than 100,000 asylum-seekers have come through New York City since last spring, and over 58,000 remain in the city’s care. 

The state Supreme Court judge in that case said earlier this month that the state has to do more to assist the city in meeting that need. Last week, New York City submitted requests for assistance from the state – a list that included a statewide relocation program and executive action to bar localities from trying to block migrants from moving them.

The state’s response to the city’s requests, submitted in a letter on Tuesday night, detailed support that the state has already provided, and criticized the city on several fronts for not taking up support that it had extended. 

In addition to the sites it identified, the state’s letter mentioned a resettlement program it has devoted $25 million to for the purpose of providing one year of permanent housing outside the city for 1,250 households. Households have to apply for asylum and move voluntarily to be eligible. The state’s letter said that the city has provided a list of 252 households that are potentially eligible for the program, but only 17 of those households have expressed a willingness to move so far, according to the state.

“We are grateful that the state has committed to partnering with us to (voluntarily) relocate 1,250 asylum-seeking families,” a City Hall spokesperson said in a statement, when asked about the city’s participation in the resettlement program. “This begins with the 325 families that we have already referred to the state. The city has also already helped these families submit their asylum applications to the federal government.”

The city has attempted to send asylum-seekers to other counties in the state, and roughly 1,500 have been moved outside the city. But dozens of counties have issued executive orders to block the city from doing more of that. The state’s letter said that while there are counties and localities outside that state that have expressed a desire to help, the city hasn’t “acted in concert” with the state and other localities. 

New York City’s unique right to shelter mandate is what has required the city to house as many of the new arrivals as it has. While some elected officials and lawmakers have pushed for that mandate – which dates back to a case claiming a right to shelter existed in the state constitution – to be applied statewide, the Adams administration has not weighed in on that idea. Asked on Wednesday whether the city would push to have the right to shelter established as a statewide responsibility, Levy declined to answer, saying, “I’m not going to opine on legal matters here.”

At an unrelated press conference on Wednesday morning, Adams reiterated that he and the governor have a strong working relationship – much stronger than that of their predecessors. “Unlike some of the tension with other administrations, the governor and I have constantly talked about our coordination,” Adams said when asked about the state’s letter. “So if her observation is that, ‘Here's some things that you can do differently,’ we're all in.”