Legal Aid Society Sues NYC for Failing to Implement Housing Voucher Expansion

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The Legal Aid Society sued Mayor Eric Adams and New York City to force the administration to expand a housing voucher program for people at risk of eviction or leaving the shelter system — a program that Adams tried unsuccessfully to kill.

The City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (CityFHEPS) program helps New Yorkers at risk of homelessness get a voucher for an apartment that caps rent at 30 percent of their income, with the city paying the remaining balance. CityFHEPS was created in 2018, significantly expanded by the New York City Council last May, and then shot down by Adams with a veto that the council later overrode.

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In its Manhattan Supreme Court case, Legal Aid wants the city to implement the changes passed by the City Council last year. The updates would let more people take advantage of the voucher by increasing the income cap for vouchers from 200 percent of the federal poverty line (roughly $30,000 for a single person) to 50 percent of the city’s area median income (or $49,450 for a single person), allowing voucher holders to pay utility bills with the funds, and expanding eligibility to any New Yorker at risk of eviction or homelessness.

“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,” said Robert Desir, a staff attorney with the civil law reform unit at The Legal Aid Society. “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.”

The named plaintiffs in the case include three struggling tenants who are facing eviction for nonpayment — Mary Cronneit, Carolina Tejeda and Susan Acks — and a cancer survivor, Marie Vincent, who lives in a city shelter with her son and earns $42,000, just over the current voucher income limit. If the city implemented the reforms, Legal Aid argues that the four people would be eligible for CityFHEPS vouchers that would allow them to stay in their homes. 

The lawsuit follows months of back and forth between the mayor’s office and the City Council over the CityFHEPS program. The council passed the expansion on May 25, 2023, and then Mayor Adams vetoed the package of bills a month later. The council then overrode the veto with a 42-8 vote in mid-July 2023. 

The Adams administration complained about the increased costs of the expansion and told the council in December that it refused to implement the changes, preparing for a lawsuit. The Adams administration claims the new program would cost $17 billion over five years, while the City Council pegs the cost at $10.6 billion during the same period.

The mayor’s office said in a statement that “with more than 10,000 households with CityFHEPS vouchers already in the city shelter system unable to find housing and a rental vacancy rate of just 1.4 percent, a historic low in the last 60 years, the Council’s bill will only make it harder for New Yorkers in shelter to move into permanent housing. Furthermore, the bills violate state law as they seek to legislate in an area where authority is reserved to the state. We always seek to work collaboratively with our colleagues at the City Council and look forward to identifying more areas of common ground to support New Yorkers experiencing homelessness, including an aggressive, citywide effort to build more housing in every neighborhood.”

The new laws were supposed to go into effect in early January 2024. Last week, the council voted to authorize Speaker Adrienne Adams to sue the city over the voucher expansion and is expected to join Legal Aid’s efforts. 

The CityFHEPS laws would keep families housed, reduce the stress on our city’s shelter network, and remove barriers to life-saving vouchers if the administration would follow the law,” said Deputy Council Speaker Diana Ayala. “Unfortunately, the administration’s failure to comply with these laws and its insistence on playing politics only harms New Yorkers.”

Rebecca Baird-Remba can be reached at rbairdremba@commercialobserver.com