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City of Immigrants

After Telling Them There’s ‘No Room’ in NYC, Mayor Adams Now Says Sheltering Migrants Is the ‘Right Thing to Do’

The mayor would very much like someone else to help pay for all this, while threatening further cuts to city programs.

Mayor Eric Adams and OMB Director Jacques Jiha to his left. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office.)

Last month, Mayor Eric Adams announced that he would be sending flyers down to the southern border, alerting migrants that New York City was "full," and that there was no place for them in the City's shelter system. 

Two weeks, a chastising from the New York Times, and one highly embarrassing exposure of people to the elements, the mayor has changed his tune, and is now resigned to the fact that New York City will remain a sanctuary for migrants for a long time going forward, as global migration patterns are drawn to the magnet that is New York City's admirable shelter policy. Migrants from across the world are now coming to New York City—with 2,900 entering the city's shelter last week alone. 

"Let me be clear," Adams said on Wednesday, "New York City will not abandon our brothers and sisters seeking the American dream."

While the Adams administration has yet to secure any additional funding from either the state or the federal government during its recent round of lobbying, it's no longer actively discouraging people from coming—with Adams simply announcing, again and again, that the City's shelter system has "reached past its breaking point," and that it needs help. 

What does that "breaking point" look like? The city has opened 193 sites to house migrants, as well as 13 large-scale "relief Centers." Over 98,000 migrants have come through the City's shelter system, with 57,300 still in the city's care. Migrants have told Hell Gate that they're receiving little help from the city in beginning their asylum cases, which would ultimately lead to work authorization and eventually, leaving the shelter system. At the same time, crowded shelters are being operated by overworked and under-qualified contractors. 

During a taped statement on Wednesday and a press conference at City Hall afterwards, Adams outlined a scenario where New York City will spend over $12 billion dollars through 2025, if the arrival of migrants continues at current rates and the City's shelter population eventually levels out. 

At the press conference, the mayor outlined specific requests from the state and federal governments, on top of what the two have already committed. The state set aside $1 billion to help New York City out with migrants in this year's budget (during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon, the city said it has already spent $250 million of it), and the federal government has committed to sending the city $100 million (during the same briefing, the City said it hasn't gotten a cent of that amount). Even with that committed money, Adams said, the city needs far more. 

At the state level, Adams wants Governor Kathy Hochul to step up, by opening state-run shelters, encouraging other cities to accept migrants, and providing more funding for the city on top of the $1 billion already designated. At the federal level, the mayor wants an expedited path to work authorization (he said current six month estimates from asylum application to work permit remain "a make-believe number"), and a declaration of a state of emergency to immediately open up funds to New York City. 

"We will continue to do more than any other city to accommodate asylum-seekers," Adams said, but admitted that if the city's models are correct, the city will begin cutting programming for non-migrant residents in order to balance the city's books. "Twelve billion dollars. Let that sink in."

City officials were evasive on Wednesday about where exactly those cuts would come from. 

"If after a big push, we can't find the resources we need, we'll need to explore what we need to do," said Jacques Jiha, the powerful Director of the Office of Management and Budget, during a briefing with the press on Wednesday. "We don't know the steps that will be taken. We have finite resources, we have no choice. These are obligations. We're going to have to take actions to balance the city's budget."

Those choices would come in the form of a Program to Eliminate the Gap, otherwise known as a PEG. Last year, the city issued three PEGs, which force City agencies to cut spending, while not impacting programming. Other City officials, including the comptroller, have been critical of how the mayor has allocated money for migrants, by not focusing enough on getting migrants and other homeless New Yorkers quickly out of shelters and into housing. Currently, the mayor is in a locked battle with the City Council over expansion of the City's housing voucher program, with the mayor and his budget director, Jiha, claiming it would cost the City too much to commit to an expanded program. 

Jiha wouldn't go into specifics about what those cuts could look like, but hinted at further efforts the administration might take to reduce the shelter population in coming weeks, on top of the new 60-day rule for single men that makes them re-apply for shelter. 

The administration said it's also looking at how to cut costs on its spending for migrants, which right now is costing the city on average $383 dollars per person per night. During his press conference, Adams suggested possibly cutting down on the costs of meals or bedding. It could also stand to look at the massive no-bid contracts that the city has given to urgent care providers with no experience sheltering people, which have yielded complaints of forced busing and abuse

While both the federal government and the state have been non-committal (Hochul has said she'd look into more money next legislative session), help for the Adams administration might be on the way from an unlikely ally—the courts, which have mostly rebuked the Adams administration for trying to wriggle out of its shelter obligations. Last Friday, a judge in Lower Manhattan began the process of asking the state to deepen its assistance to New York City, asking the administration to make a list of requests to the state. Another hearing is set for a week from today. 

Until then, the mayor and his budget director will keep portraying a doomsday scenario for the City's budget—although this time, without any misconception that the way to avoid it is by stopping migrants from coming to New York City. 

"Why are we still giving them a blanket?" Adams said in response to a question of when the City might finally stop providing shelter. "We give them a blanket because it’s the right thing to do. It’s the humanitarian thing to do."

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