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Adams named in lawsuit involving housing vouchers, migrants

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(The Center Square) – New York City Mayor Eric Adams is being sued by homeless advocates for not implementing a new law expanding the city’s low-income housing voucher program amid an influx of tens of thousands of migrants.

The lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society on behalf of four homeless individuals, faults the mayor for failing to implement three laws overhauling the city’s rental assistance program, known as CityFHEPS. The plaintiffs have asked a Superior Court judge in Manhattan to grant an injunction ordering the city to comply with the laws.

“Respondents are unlawfully denying petitioners the benefit of critical protections the Legislature intended them to have, while they face eviction and languish in shelter, creating exactly the evil the Legislature sought to prevent – households eligible for a subsidy meant to prevent eviction will be evicted because Respondents have failed to act in accordance with the law,” the lawsuit reads.

The Legal Aid Society, which advocates for the city’s homeless population, said the court needs to compel the Adams administration to comply with the expanded voucher program.

“The Adams administration’s refusal to implement the law is unacceptable, and the city must take immediate action to ensure that the thousands of New Yorkers who are experiencing or are on the brink of homelessness and who are now eligible for CityFHEPS can secure safe, long-term and affordable housing,” read a statement from Robert Desir, a staff attorney with the society.

The package of bills would allow New Yorkers facing eviction to apply for rental vouchers and eliminate a rule requiring people to stay in shelters for 90 days before they are eligible to receive a voucher. It also prohibits landlords from deducting utility bill charges from a voucher and raises the cutoff income level to qualify for assistance.

Adams vetoed the proposal last year, saying it would be too costly to the city. He estimated the price tag at $17 billion over five years, $7 billion more than the City Council projected.

The council overrode Adams’ veto by a vote of 42-8 in July and gave the mayor until Feb. 7 to implement the law and said he hasn’t complied with the demands. In December, the Adams administration informed council members that it couldn’t implement the new laws due to “substantial financial, operational and legal issues.”

Last week, the council voted to authorize Council President Adrienne Adams to file a legal challenge to force the mayor to implement the new laws.

Under the CityFHEPS program, a household must have a gross income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level and face eviction. About 36,000 households use the program, according to the city.

In 2023, the city spent nearly $500 million on the program, almost double what it spent in 2021, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. The department estimates that expanding the voucher program would cost the city between $3 billion and $36 billion over the next five years.

The dispute over implementing the rental voucher law is the latest development in a widening intra-party rift between Adams and the Democratic-led Council, which recently overrode the mayor’s vetoes of a police stop bill and a ban on solitary confinement in city jails.

It also comes as the city grapples with the influx of tens of thousands of migrants that have pushed its emergency shelter system to the brink of collapse.

The city is providing temporary housing and other needs for about 65,000 migrants, which it says has cost more than $2 billion over the past year.

“The mayor’s disrespect for everyday New Yorkers, especially those facing homelessness, not to mention this council and our speaker, is shameful,” New York City Council Member Tiffany Cabán, a Democrat, said in a statement on Wednesday. “He has proven that he cannot be trusted. This city deserves so much better.”

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