Dozens of elected officials, immigration and housing advocates and tenants rallied outside of City Hall on Thursday, calling on Mayor Eric Adams to abandon his plan to house some asylum seekers in tent shelters.
Instead, they argue, City Hall should utilize shuttered hotels and other spaces to temporarily house the thousands of asylum seekers coming to the city in recent months, many of whom are residing in homeless shelters and straining an already beleaguered system.
“We must use hotels. We must use whatever we can to get people into housing that can actually shelter them,” said state Sen. Jabari Brisport of Brooklyn, who was joined by members of the City Council, State Assembly and state Senate.
Carrying posters, including one that read “No tent cities. Housing for all New Yorkers,” the group chanted a rallying call: “Fight. Fight. Fight. Housing is a Human Right.”
Meanwhile, in Midtown, Adams told reporters at an unrelated news conference on Thursday that his administration is continuing to look for additional places where asylum seekers can stay if they don’t have friends or family to receive them once they arrive in New York City.
More than 18,600 asylum seekers have arrived in New York City since the spring, the mayor said on Wednesday. Shelter figures sent out by City Hall and obtained by Gothamist show that as of Wednesday, 14,777 asylum seekers were living in city shelters.
The quickest way to make room in the city’s shelter system is to move homeless New Yorkers into permanent housing, lawmakers and advocates said at the rally.
They urged the mayor to immediately get rid of a waiting period that forces homeless people to live in shelters for 90 days before they can apply for city-funded housing assistance, known as CityFHEPS. They also called on the Adams administration to hire more workers to help expedite the application process.
The protest comes just a day after Adams announced that his administration would temporarily house roughly 200 families at a Midtown hotel, a planned relief center in the works by City Hall to alleviate some of the pressure on the shelter system, where capacity is reaching highs not seen in decades.
The Midtown hotel is a departure from the first relief center— a sprawling tent complex going up on Randall’s Island, which can house up to 500 people — that has been roundly criticized as inadequate and costly as winter approaches and temperatures dip.
“The idea of housing people in sheds exposed to the cold and storm is unacceptable,” said Nilda Baez, an activist with immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York.
City flood maps show that the area where the tent structures are currently being built is prone to flooding, which plagued the initial location in Orchard Beach, forcing the mayor to move the facility to Randall’s Island and scale it back.
The Adams administration has been scrambling to find places to house new arrivals, opening emergency shelters in about 40 hotels and contemplating temporarily housing migrants on a docked cruise ship. Earlier this week, Adams called out unnamed elected officials for not proposing sites in their districts for migrants, hinting that the “loudest have been the least benevolent.”
Standing alongside Gov. Kathy Hochul in Kips Bay at the unrelated news conference on Thursday, Adams enthusiastically praised the support the city has received from the state so far — specifically, deploying the National Guard to help with the city-run asylum seeker encampment on Randall’s Island.
“We have a real ‘W’ in how the governor has been just an unbelievable ally in this pursuit,” Adams said. “And there’s several other things that we are going to need the state — locations, navigating those locations — and she has been there, and I can’t thank you enough, governor, just for being there.”
For her part, Hochul said she believes the Biden administration’s new strategy at the Mexican border will help “stem” the flow of migrants.
On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Venezuelans who attempt to enter the U.S. illegally would be returned to Mexico. At the same time, the U.S. plan will give up to 24,000 Venezuelans with American sponsors a legal path to enter the country.
“The mayor and I have been joined at the hip from the beginning in our belief that this is a situation that calls for strong federal engagement, making sure that there's a different strategy at the borders,” the governor said.
Adams, meanwhile, was asked why his administration hasn’t asked the Hochul administration to use the state-operated Javits Center and its massive convention spaces to house asylum seekers. During the early days of the pandemic, the Javits Center was converted into a temporary hospital to alleviate some of the pressure faced by standard hospitals inundated with COVID-19 patients.
The mayor said he’s trying to find a solution that doesn’t disrupt the city’s economy, and the Javits Center remains a hub for conventions that draw visitors and revenue to the city.
“We looked and we are looking at every place,” Adams said. “But at the same time as we house, we cannot harm our economics. The Jacob Javits Center is being filled with conventions. So we do not want to harm the economy as we house people. That's the balance that we are correctly doing.”
Additional reporting by Arya Sundaram.