Legal Aid says city, state collaboration on migrants improved, as Adams makes new demands of Hochul

Cots at migrant shelter in Queens
Cots inside the makeshift shelter for migrants erected on the grounds of the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens on Aug. 15, 2023.
Photo by Dean Moses

An attorney with the Legal Aid Society said Wednesday that the city and state have started working together “more urgently” to address the migrant influx after a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ordered Albany earlier this month to better assist the Big Apple in managing the crisis.

But the city on Wednesday, in a letter to the judge, made a list of additional demands from the state that include utilizing more state-owned sites both in and outside the city as migrant shelters, more funding, and for Governor Kathy Hochul to issue an executive order forcing localities upstate to accept migrants into their communities. 

“The scale of the crisis … demands State leadership of a statewide solution,” the city’s letter reads.

Tensions between the Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams have grown in recent weeks, as both administrations have traded barbs over how much responsibility each has in managing the crisis.

The Legal Aid attorney — Josh Goldfein — made the remarks while speaking to reporters outside the New York County Courthouse at 60 Centre St. on Aug. 23, following a court conference between Legal Aid and the city and state called by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Erika Edwards. The meeting concerned the city’s push to suspend parts of its right to shelter law, which guarantees shelter to anyone seeking it, as its struggles to find housing for tens of thousands of migrants.

Goldfein said communications between the city and state had markedly improved since the start of the month, when they were much rockier at an earlier court conference. That’s due in part, he said, to the Hochul administration getting new legal counsel since state Attorney General Letitia James stopped representing it in the case earlier this month.

“The last time we were here it was clear to everyone that the city and the state were having communications difficulties, that’s why you saw the order that came last time,” Goldfein told reporters. “And since then, I think we’ve had very productive conversations. We have new counsel for the state. And we have the governor making announcements of things that she wants to do. So hopefully we are now moving in the right direction.”

Since the last court conference, the governor has helped the city fund a new large-scale migrant shelter on Randall’s Island and announced Monday she had reached a tentative deal with the federal government to use Brooklyn’s Floyd Bennett Field for another migrant center. Hochul also committed $20 million to help boost the processing of casework for migrants in an effort to help more of them move out of city shelters and free-up space.

The city also sent another letter listing its needs from the state on Aug. 9, which the state responded to in its own missive on Aug. 15. The city’s Wednesday letter was in response to the state’s last.

When asked about the city’s latest letter of demands and what that says about where tensions with the state stand, Goldfein said that while progress has been made there’s still more to be done.

“If it were easy, we would have walked out altogether holding hands with the signed agreement, but we didn’t do that,” he said. “But there’s a lot of work and there is some tension. You have three different levels of government here that each has some responsibility, and inevitably they want the other level of government to do more. So, it’s going to take some time to work all of this out.”

The next court conference in the case will be held Sept. 15.

As the the city’s shelter population has topped 110,900, 59,300 of whom are migrants, its leaders are also continuing to plead with the White House to resettle migrants to other parts of the country and give it far more financial reimbursement for the $1.4 billion it has spent on the crisis so far.

Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom, during a migrant crisis briefing earlier Tuesday, said the immigration crisis needs to be resolved at the federal level, instead of by the city’s Department of Homeless Services.

“This is an immigration issue, this is not a homelessness issue that should be at the door of the DHS system,” she said. “The solutions to this do not lie within New York City. It lies within the state and the federal government.”