The city’s housing voucher rental assistance program should be reformed to allow undocumented immigrants access to aid, homeless and housing advocates said at a rally Tuesday on the steps of City Hall.
The call from officials at the Legal Aid Society, VOCAL-NY, Neighbors Together, and the Community Service Society comes amid an influx of asylum seekers to New York City in recent months from the southern border, where Republican governors are busing migrants to northern cities.
“A lot more needs to be done to clear the administrative hurdles that we see every day and to fight landlord discrimination,” said Emerita Torres, vice president of policy, research, and advocacy at the Community Service Society of New York.
The city’s already strained shelter system is buckling as it takes in thousands of asylum seekers, Mayor Eric Adams warned last month as he asked the federal government for money to help alleviate the financial pressure.
“It’s just crazy for us, as a city, to keep on paying an exorbitant amount to keep them in shelter,” said Judith Goldiner, who heads the civil law reform unit at the Legal Aid Society.
The groups are asking that city officials tweak the City Family Homelessness and Eviction Protection Supplements program, known as CityFHEPS, which helps individuals and families who are living in homeless shelters or on the cusp of homelessness find and keep permanent housing through rental assistance.
Currently, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for CityFHEPS, according to Goldiner. But for families with mixed documentation status, they could access some relief, but not the full amount.
If a single member of a four-person household holds some form of documentation status, the family qualifies for rental subsidies for a family of one, Goldiner said.
Kassi Keith said that the restriction to the CityFHEPS program leaves her with few options out of homelessness.
“There is no way out for me. I have to stay in the shelter indefinitely because I am undocumented,” Keith said in an interview following the press conference.
The 54-year-old Ivory Coast native had been living and working in the U.S. for more than 30 years until she lost her job due to health issues. She was eventually evicted from her home.
Keith, who has no children, has been homeless for about five years. She said she lived on the streets for two years and has been living in the city's shelter system since 2019.
Among the other changes advocates are urging the Adams administration and the City Council to consider scrapping the 90-day shelter stay rule in order to access permanent housing and get rid of the “utility allowance” that is deducted from the rental subsidy.
The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.