Mayor Eric Adams says some parts of New York City’s right-to-shelter law do not apply to the current influx of migrants seeking asylum because the city is “dealing with a humanitarian crisis.”
Appearing on WNYC’s Morning Edition on Friday, Adams reiterated his belief that the law — which requires the city to provide shelter and a bed to anyone who seeks it — is inapplicable to the city’s current situation, where tens of thousands of border-crossers have poured into New York City as they navigate the lengthy asylum process.
Adams did not suggest the city will stop providing shelter to the incoming migrants, saying non-citizens “have a right to shelter, and we comply with that.” But he questioned whether the entirety of the right-to-shelter law — which requires a 24-hour-a-day intake center and temporary shelter within hours for anyone who applies by 10 p.m., along with minimum standards for shelters — applies to the current situation.
“We believe when you look at the number of hours that someone must be in — when you receive 800 people in one day, 3,000 in one week — the number of hours that they must comply with that rule in right to shelter falls in a different category when you’re dealing with a humanitarian crisis,” Adams told Morning Edition host Michael Hill.
About 42,000 asylum seekers have sought shelter in New York City since last spring, according to the mayor’s office. Of those, Adams said about 20,000 are still in the city’s care.
The Democratic mayor acknowledged the right-to-shelter law, which dates back to the late 1970s, does not differentiate between citizens and non-citizens. But he claimed the extent of the city’s current crisis alters the legal playing field.
“We’re dealing with a humanitarian crisis, and if we are saying that in a humanitarian crisis of disproportion that it is solely the responsibility of New Yorkers, I challenge that,” he said.
Adams first asserted the right-to-shelter law doesn’t apply to the current wave of asylum seekers on Wednesday, when he appeared on WABC’s Sid and Friends in the Morning. In September, the mayor first raised that the decades-old law that led to the city’s modern shelter system should be “reassessed.”
His initial comments drew immediate backlash from advocates for migrants and the homeless.
“The Mayor has a legal and moral obligation to uphold the right to shelter for all people in New York City, and that includes people seeking asylum,” Natalia Aristizabal Betancur, deputy director of Make the Road New York, said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s deeply unfortunate that he continues to try to mislead the public about his responsibilities, instead of focusing on how his administration will comply with the law.”
Adams’ appearance on WNYC came a day after he delivered his second State of the City address, laying out what he called the “working people’s agenda” that was heavy on housing, public safety and job training.
As part of his plan, Adams wants to lift a ban on housing in Midtown between West 23rd and 41st streets as part of an effort to convert thousands of empty offices into apartments.
On Friday, Hill asked Adams if that was an acknowledgment that the business districts likely won’t return to what they were before the COVID pandemic — and Adams confirmed that’s the case.
“Well, we can play in the area of ideal, or we can live in the area of real,” Adams said. “ How we are working has changed across the globe, not only here in New York City, the business capital, but across the globe. How do we adjust to that?”
Adams said the city currently has about “10 million square feet of real estate that is not being used.” Along with housing, he said he wants to explore using some of that space for child care purposes.