The mayor has argued that the bills will be too costly, and that an expanded pool will make it harder for existing voucher holders in a city with too few low-cost apartments. But the Council has pushed back consistently, disputing the mayor’s cost estimate and accusing him of shortsightedness.
Weeks of mounting tension between Mayor Eric Adams and the City Council came to a head Thursday, as the Council voted 42-8 to override his recent veto of bills aimed at expanding eligibility for city-issued rental vouchers.
The mayor has argued that the bills will be too costly, and that an expanded pool will make it harder for existing voucher holders in a city with too few low-cost apartments. A legal challenge to today’s veto override could be imminent.
But the Council has pushed back consistently, disputing the mayor’s cost estimate and accusing him of shortsightedness.
“We are trying to relieve pressure on our shelter system,” Bronx Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, a primary sponsor of the package, said at a rally outside City Hall Thursday. While more housing supply is needed, she said, “you can walk and chew gum.”
The override comes as a record number of people are sleeping in Department of Homeless Services shelters*—nearly 82,000 as of Tuesday, with tens of thousands more in emergency facilities set up to house asylum seekers.
The bills, which initially passed in May, will eliminate several existing qualifications to access City Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, or CityFHEPS, vouchers. Under the program, established in 2018, most voucher holders pay part of their income in rent, while the city covers the balance.
Income eligibility will jump from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent of the area median income under the legislation, or $63,550 for a family of three. Work requirements will also be eliminated, and New Yorkers will be able to access the vouchers in a wider range of shelter systems, including those for youth.
Under current rules, New Yorkers who are not in shelter have to meet strict qualifications to access CityFHEPS. But one of the bills revived today will expand voucher eligibility to any income-qualifying household “at risk of eviction,” demonstrated with a rent demand letter—a notice signaling the impending start of an eviction case.
“It’s all about keeping folks in their homes,” sponsor Sanchez said ahead of the override.
The bills also codify the elimination of a 90-day waiting period for New Yorkers to qualify for CityFHEPs after entering shelter. Mayor Adams eliminated the requirement through an emergency rule in June, while also tweaking work requirements that the Council bills strike down.
Moving to veto the Council’s package on June 23, Mayor Adams said it goes too far and that “the option to provide vouchers to every person who would be eligible under the Council’s bills is far beyond what the city can provide.”
Cost estimates vary. The Adams Administration has estimated a $17.2 billion price tag over five years, factoring in shelter savings and based on an assumed 47,000 new voucher holders each year. The City Council’s estimate hovers at $10.6 billion.
In a June analysis, the Community Service Society of New York (a City Limits funder) predicted a much lower net cost of $3 billion over five years, factoring in estimated shelter savings as well as the the cost differential between the apartments low-income tenants are fighting to hold onto and more expensive apartments on the open market.
At a press conference preceding the veto override, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams described other costs if the Council bills were to flounder. “There are also the educational, health, justice system, and other costs that are created when people become, and remain homeless,” she said.
Thursday marked the first veto override since Michael Bloomberg’s mayoralty, when bills were vetoed, and subsequently overridden, with some frequency. By contrast, former Mayor Bill de Blasio did not veto a single bill.
During his veto announcement last month, Mayor Adams hinted at a possible legal challenge if the Council were to override his action, saying the legislation “clearly exceeds the Council’s legal authority.”
Elaborating on this position this week, City Hall sources said the bills impede on state authority, since rental assistance programs are governed by the state’s Social Services Law, which doesn’t empower the City Council to administer them.
Mayor Adams would not be the first mayor to use such an argument to challenge a veto override, according to Mitchell L. Moss, a professor of urban planning at New York University.
In 2006, for example, the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, ruled in favor of then-Mayor Bloomberg, finding that he did not have to enforce a law extending certain benefits to domestic partners because it violated state and federal law. “The Council is on thin legal ground,” Moss said.
“The Council has previously legislated several times on the CityFHEPS voucher program,” the release noted, including in 2021, when the city increased the value of the vouchers to better keep pace with rising housing costs.
“I would offer that the CityFHEPS program is completely city-administered with city funds,” said Robert Desir, an attorney with the civil reform unit at the Legal Aid Society and proponent of the CityFHEPS bills. “And obviously the City Council has a role, they’ve played a role, and I think that they’re on solid footing.”
Asked about a possible court battle ahead of Thursday’s vote, Speaker Adams said she hadn’t had any discussions about it. “I’ve had no conversation, candidly, of that, so that’s something that I can’t even address,” she said.
Regardless, the legislation revived Thursday comes with a six month implementation period, meaning the bills won’t take full effect immediately.
Both critics and supporters have noted that the city agencies tasked with processing vouchers are short-staffed, and the current volume of vouchers is not being processed smoothly.
“The city has to attack the delays associated with CityFHEPS,” Desir of Legal Aid said during a General Welfare Committee hearing Thursday, speaking in support of the veto override. “Voucher holders should not have to navigate a byzantine lease-up process where weeks or months of delays often lead to loss of housing opportunity.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Council turned the spotlight on the Adams Administration to address its staffing shortages, saying increasing and sustaining staffing is “the responsibility of every mayoral administration.”
“Rather than justifying dysfunction or setting low expectations for our city agencies,” they added, “people criticizing solutions to homelessness should focus their attention on promoting more support for agencies to have the capacity they need.”
*This story has been updated to clarify the shelter census is DHS-specific.