Adams admin asks court to revise its request to suspend right-to-shelter law; judge recuses herself from case

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Legal Aid Society staff attorney Josh Goldfein speaks to reporters after right-to-shelter court conference. Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023.
Photo by Ethan Stark-Miller

The Adams administration has asked a New York State Supreme Court to revise its application to suspend parts of the city’s right-to-shelter law amid the ongoing migrant crisis, as the judge assigned to the case recused herself following a Tuesday court conference in Lower Manhattan.

The administration in May initially filed a motion to suspend the right-to-shelter law, which guarantees a shelter bed for any person who requests one, if the city lacks the “resources and capacity” to comply with the mandate. The move was presented as a way to give the city “flexibility” in sheltering tens of thousands of recently arrived migrants, roughly 60,000 of whom are still in its care.

But it wasn’t immediately clear how the city planned to modify its request on Tuesday afternoon.

The judge gave the city until Oct. 3 to submit a letter outlining its revised requests of the court following the behind-closed-door negotiations among attorneys for the city, state and Legal Aid Society — which represents the Coalition for the Homeless in the case. The other parties in the case will then have until Oct. 11 to respond to the city’s letter and the city will have until Oct. 18 to reply back.

Judge Erika Edwards also announced that she’s recusing herself from overseeing the case without going into much detail as to why.

“I wish to avoid any potential appearance of impropriety, that my impartiality may be questioned. It may appear that I may have [a] motive to favor one party over the others,” Edwards said. “So, this case will be reassigned to a new judge, which we will get done as soon as we can.”

Josh Goldfein, a Legal Aid staff attorney assigned to the case, told reporters in a press conference following the court proceedings that the public should take Edwards “at her word” about her determination that she may appear to be impartial in the case.

Goldfein said the city’s continued pursuit of altering the right-to-shelter, which was established through the 1981 Callahan v. Carey consent decree, “doesn’t make sense” at this time given that the state and federal governments have recently stepped up their efforts to help shoulder the influx. 

That includes a program recently announced by Gov. Kathy Hochul to place migrants in jobs as soon as they obtain work authorization. Furthermore, the feds last week extended and redesignated Temporary Protective Status for Venezuelan immigrants, a move that allows about a quarter of the migrants currently in the city’s care to apply for work permits. 

“We have now seen that the federal government has responded and given [the city] the tools that they asked for. The governor has created a plan that is meant to enable people to support themselves, to support their families, to live independently, in exactly the way that the mayor asked,” Goldfein said. “And yet, just as that plan is getting rolling, we’ve learned today that the city plans to ask for permission to make a motion anyway to be relieved of the right-to-shelter in some way.”

The latest court conference follows a series of letters back and forth between the city and state, where the Adams administration asked for more funding and resources from Albany.

Goldfein said the administration has moved to tweak its ask of the court, now for the third time, because of the rapidly evolving nature of the migrant crisis.

“What they have said is that the facts keep changing and so their requests are changing,” he said.