REAL ESTATE

Mayor Adams sued over failure to enact housing voucher laws

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The New York City Council on Wednesday filed a motion to join a class-action lawsuit against Mayor Eric Adams for failing to comply with new laws regarding housing vouchers that should have taken effect on January 9. The Legal Aid Society filed the suit last week on behalf of four plaintiffs who are unable to access housing vouchers they are entitled to under laws passed by the City Council last year, according to Gothamist.

The legal filings of the motion emphasized the importance of separation of powers within government and the mandated responsibility of the mayor to implement laws passed by the Council. As written in the memorandum of law:

“Because the Council validly enacted the CityFHEPS Reform Laws, the Mayor is now legally required by the Charter to implement them. But he refuses to do so. His refusal not only deprives New Yorkers of housing benefits to which they are entitled under the law; it usurps the powers of the Council, a co-equal branch of City government, and it upends the separation of powers enshrined in the City Charter. What he could not secure through the Charter-established process, the Mayor is now attempting to achieve by unlawfully abdicating his duties.”

Last May, the Council passed a package of bills significantly expanding rental assistance via the City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (CityFHEPS) program, intending to free up space in the city’s shelter system for asylum seekers and move more unhoused New Yorkers into permanent housing. The laws would expand eligibility by changing the income from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent of the area median income and allowing income-eligible households at risk of eviction to qualify. Another law also lowers the amount voucher holders pay for utilities.

Adams vetoed the four City Council bills, claiming it would cost the city $17 billion over five years and “make it harder” for homeless New Yorkers to find housing. Adams also said that the city should prioritize funding the creation of new affordable housing over rental assistance.

The Council overrode the veto in July, but since then, the Adams administration has not expanded eligibility for the vouchers. The Legal Aid Society filed the lawsuit on behalf of New Yorkers who would be eligible for CityFHEPS under the new laws but can’t access the rent subsidy.

“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,” Robert Desir, staff attorney with the Civil Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society, said.

“We look forward to fighting on behalf of our clients and all New Yorkers who are facing housing instability and who could benefit from these laws.”

One of the plaintiffs, Marie Vincent, is a cancer survivor who lives in a local homeless shelter with her 12-year-old grandson. The family entered the shelter in May 2023 after they were forced to vacate their long-time Bronx home after a new landlord purchased the property and evicted all the tenants.

Vincent currently works in housekeeping at a hospital, and under the guidelines of the new legislation, should qualify for housing vouchers with her current annual income of roughly $42,000. However, because her income is slightly above the city’s current income requirement level for housing vouchers, she cannot obtain a voucher.

“I feel punished for making a living, even though I still struggle to pay rent or purchase groceries,” Vincent said at City Hall on Wednesday, as reported by Gothamist. “My situation is not unique. There are many New Yorkers out there in similar positions who are struggling and who would be better off if these laws were implemented.”

If the city were to implement the legislation, Vincent could acquire the shopping letter required to secure an apartment at the full CityFHEPS maximum rent level.

Editor’s note: The original version of this article was published on February 15, 2024, and has since been updated to reflect the City Council’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit.

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