NYC’s out of control migrant shelter crisis must end
The arrival of more than 70,000 migrants from across the border in only a year is the greatest challenge currently facing New York City.
Some 50,000 of them are now in the city’s shelter system, forcing the Adams administration to open large congregate facilities and convert thousands of hotel rooms into shelters at a tremendous cost to taxpayers.
With the city paying $256 per night on average to shelter a migrant family and immigration-court backlogs stretching years into the future, a single family will set the city back nearly $100,000 in annual shelter expenses, not to mention the costs of providing security, emergency health care, and public-school education.
And as migrants continue to exhaust the supply of hotels and other facilities, finding additional shelter space will only become more difficult, pushing costs potentially well past the Adams administration’s $4.3 billion two-year estimate.
With only nominal assistance coming from Washington and a pledge of just $1 billion from Albany, the city must limit the number of migrants entering the shelter system.
Otherwise, New Yorkers face the prospect of tax hikes and service cuts, while New York’s native homeless population risks losing out from resources diverted to migrants.
New York City’s uniquely expansive right to shelter law underlies much of today’s shelter crisis.
Stemming from a 1979 lawsuit that then-Mayor Ed Koch settled through a consent decree, the law requires the city to provide immediate shelter to those who request it — with no limit on the total shelter population or their cost.
This unlimited right-to-shelter has turned the Big Apple into a welfare magnet for migrants.
In response to the crisis, Mayor Adams justifiably sought to suspend parts of these provisions, but he faces myriad legal and practical challenges. On May 23, the Adams administration requested the court amend the consent decree to relieve the city from its obligations when it “lacks the resources and capacity … to provide safe and appropriate shelter.”
When, exactly, would the city lack enough resources?
After all, it could redirect spending on parks and libraries, eliminate city-funded programs, or pause hiring for teachers and police officers to fund shelters.
It might even sell off assets like city-owned buildings and vehicles. Lawsuits from homeless and immigrant rights groups will no doubt plumb these possibilities.
Meanwhile, the administration’s request applies only to singles and families without children — just 30 percent of migrants in shelters — which means even if the court approves the modification, it would not stop most migrants entering those shelter doors.
Ordinarily, families seeking shelter placement must meet need-based eligibility requirements that bar those who could safely return to an address where they’ve lived in the past two years. (Single adults are not subject to such requirements.)
As a result, the majority of applicants not seeking asylum are denied shelter on these grounds. But a city policy, in place since at least 2017, exempts most families who claim they’re seeking asylum from having to provide their address history, which lowers the bar to obtaining shelter.
In a new Manhattan Institute issue brief, we propose rescinding or amending the city’s shelter policy for asylum-seeker families, which would impact around 35 percent of the current shelter population.
Rescinding this policy would subject migrant families to the same need-based eligibility requirements that apply to most other family applicants.
But even amending the policy could reduce the city’s shelter burden.
For example, the special treatment presently afforded to those who claim to be asylum-seekers could be granted only to those who formally apply for asylum with the federal government — which only “very few” have done, according to a top Adams administration official.
The city should also impose stricter need-based shelter eligibility requirements for families, at least until the present crisis abates.
It could, for example, restrict those who either declined or willfully left housing or shelter offered by an organization, family member, friend, or governmental entity (other than New York City).
To complement these limits on shelter, reduce costs, and help migrants, New York City should launch a local Welcome Corps sponsorship program to match migrants with willing New Yorkers, churches, and nonprofits who volunteer to host them.
The mayor hinted at this with the idea to pay New Yorkers to receive migrants in their homes, but his plan relies on almost random assignments.
Instead, all arriving migrants should be required to register in the sponsorship program as a condition for shelter placement, and they must leave the shelter once a suitable sponsor is found.
Even if a few hundred New Yorkers step up, this would save the city millions, though evidence from the U.S. Welcome Corps suggests that many more will help migrants adapt and live in better conditions.
New York City has a long history of welcoming millions of immigrants, poor and rich, documented and undocumented.
This influx has only now a problem thanks to the confluence of the border crisis and the city’s provision of free shelter to anyone who claims to needs it.
Unless the mayor acts—and fast—to limit the inflow of migrants into city shelters, his legacy, and the city he leads, will be at risk.
John Ketcham is a fellow and Director of State and Local Policy at the Manhattan Institute. Daniel DiMartino is a graduate fellow at the Manhattan Institute