New York City mayor is sued over refusal to comply with new rental-assistance laws

By Thomson Reuters Feb 14, 2024 | 4:02 PM

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lawyers representing New Yorkers facing eviction and living in shelters sued New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Wednesday to try to force him to comply with new local laws expanding access to rental assistance.

The lawsuit by the Legal Aid Society comes after the mayor unsuccessfully vetoed the new laws expanding access to vouchers for low-income New Yorkers. The New York City Council, which had voted to override the mayor’s veto last July, will soon join Legal Aid in suing the mayor after making the unusual move last week.

The mayor’s administration said in December it would not implement laws due to take effect in January, saying the council exceeded its legal authority and underestimated the costs.

The council passed the new laws last May to reform and expand eligibility for the City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement program (CityFHEPS), which provides housing vouchers for New Yorkers facing homelessness.

Adams’ office said it estimated the cost would be $17 billion over the next five years, much higher than the council’s $10.6 billion estimate, and that it would lead to waitlists for people seeking vouchers. His office also argued that only the New York State government has the power to change rental-assistance programs.

Adams, asked about the dispute with lawmakers at a press conference Tuesday, also cited the city’s housing shortage and its overburdened shelter system, which on a typical day provides beds to tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

“So, you aggravate the problem when you’re now going to give thousands of more people vouchers to compete with those who will have vouchers in their hands,” he said.

More than 36,000 households already receive housing vouchers from the city, according to Adams’ office.

“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,” said Robert Desir, a Legal Aid Society attorney.

Legal Aid filed its class-action lawsuit Wednesday in the Manhattan Supreme Court on behalf of four New Yorkers who say they are eligible for housing vouchers under the council’s expansion.

Three of the plaintiffs are facing eviction from their apartments. The fourth, a hospital housekeeper making $42,000 a year, has been in a shelter since May with her 12-year-old grandson after a new landlord evicted all the tenants from the Bronx apartment building in which she lived.

A spokesperson for the mayor said his office was reviewing the lawsuit and that his administration would focus on working with the city council to build more affordable housing across the city.

According to the Coalition for the Homeless, a non-profit advocacy group, thousands of New Yorkers can be found each night sleeping on the city’s streets, in the subway system and other public spaces.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis)