Council authorizes lawsuit over CityFHEPS housing voucher expansion

Speaker Adrienne Adams said it’s now a wait-and-see over whether the Adams administration will comply with new law before a decision is made to take legal action.

Speaker Adrienne Adams attends a New York City Council pre-stated press conference Thursday

Speaker Adrienne Adams attends a New York City Council pre-stated press conference Thursday Emil Cohen/NYC Council Media Unit

The New York City Council moved to authorize taking legal action against the Adams administration for its refusal to expand access to rental vouchers Thursday, further heightening tensions between the mayor and members in wake of a contentious veto battle.

Members approved a resolution to allow New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams to sue the city to enforce the CityFHEPS housing-voucher expansion – a necessary procedural step that would allow her to act on behalf of the entire body. It would be the first time the council has taken legal action against New York City Mayor Eric Adams, although the speaker emphasized that while the resolution authorizes a lawsuit, it doesn’t guarantee that that is the path the chamber will take.

“There has been no final decision yet on any legal action, but this maintains our ability to keep our options open,” Speaker Adams said during a press conference Thursday, adding that the council will wait and see how the city responds to the resolution’s passage. What form potential legal action would take is also undecided at this point, according to the speaker.

So far, the council’s threats have yielded little progress. Speaker Adams said she hasn’t heard from the New York City Department of Social Services since the council sent a letter last month warning that members were prepared to sue to compel the city to comply with the laws if “concrete, verifiable steps” aren’t taken. DSS indicated late last year that it wasn’t acting to fully implement the laws. It’s unclear at this point whether the Legal Aid Society – which also previously threatened to sue the city over the matter – will take legal action on its own. 

The laws, initially passed in May and formally approved over the summer after the City Council voted to override Adams’ veto, are aimed at expanding access to housing vouchers by prohibiting sources of income or work status from being used to determine eligibility. The Adams administration pushed back against elements of the bills then and has continued to do so in the months since, citing high costs. Advocates have decried the city’s refusal to implement the laws.

There is no indication that the administration has changed its opinion on the laws. In an updated statement sent Thursday, a City Hall spokesperson again pointed to the city’s ongoing budget demands, arguing that implementing the laws would be too expensive amid the city’s fiscal challenges.

“As New York City taxpayers face billions in asylum costs as we continue to manage a national humanitarian crisis, this legislation will add $17 billion onto the backs of our taxpayers,” the spokesperson said in a statement. The council has disputed that cost estimate. “Simultaneously, it 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 thousands of asylum-seekers continue to arrive in our city every week. This will only force more painful budget cuts onto working-class New Yorkers.”

The approval of the resolution comes amid heightened tensions between the City Council and Mayor Adams. Earlier this month, the council voted to override his vetoes of two law enforcement-related bills in wake of a contentious public messaging battle. It was a bruising defeat. So far, the council has overturned three of Mayor Adams’ vetoes during his tenure. Suing the administration would mark an even greater escalation – one the council is perhaps reluctant to commit to at this point given the speaker’s emphasis that the resolution’s passage doesn’t necessarily guarantee a lawsuit.

“We are going to continue to work to the best of our abilities with the administration regardless of anything that has taken place currently or in the past,” Speaker Adams said of her relationship with the mayor.  A spokesperson for the mayor echoed a similar sentiment.

Earlier today, Mayor Adams announced a new program to create 1,500 permanent affordable homes for people in the city’s shelter system using CityFHEPS vouchers, fast tracking 1,000 of the units. 

“The law that we passed was absolutely the stand that we still have. Anything that will come subsequent to that law is fine and it would be welcome, but it doesn’t supersede the law that is in place,” Speaker Adams said of the plan.