Securing housing in a city known for sky-high rents is proving difficult for newly arrived immigrants. Of the six people City Limits spoke to about their recent searches, only one was able to find and rent a room; another is paying a coworker to sleep on a sofa, and the rest are staying in overcrowded spaces with friends of friends or acquaintances.

Adi Talwar

Immigrant adults staying at an emergency shelter hotel at 99 Washington St. packed their belongings after being transferred in September to the city’s congregate shelter at Randall’s Island.

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Late last month, Mayor Eric Adams announced that the city was shortening its deadline for adult migrants in shelter, who now have 30 days to find alternative places to stay—down from a prior 60-day limit announced in July—before they need to reapply for placement in the system, which officials say is at capacity.

But securing housing in a city known for sky-high rents is proving difficult for newly arrived immigrants, many of whom lack work authorization and the type of documents needed to rent an apartment. Of the six people City Limits spoke to about their recent searches, only one was able to find and rent a room; another is paying a coworker to sleep on a sofa, and the rest are staying in overcrowded spaces with friends of friends or acquaintances.

For example, Maria, Rebecca, and Lorena—who asked City Limits to identify them by first name only—had been staying at an emergency shelter at a lower Manhattan hotel when they were first issued a 60-day notice, with a mid-October deadline. They were later told they would need to move from the Holiday Inn to a large tent shelter on Randall’s Island, as the city sought to free up hotel rooms for families with kids.

After declining the transfer to the new congregate shelter, where they felt they would lose their privacy and have a difficult commute to their jobs, the three friends started searching for alternatives.

“We were not told where or how to look for [rentals], or what we needed—what we heard were hallway rumors,” said Lorena, 31, in Spanish. After asking everyone they knew, one of Maria’s compatriots accepted them into her two-bedroom apartment in Queens, where two other people were already living.

For months, the Adams administration has said its shelter system can no longer accommodate new asylum seekers, more than 113,000 of whom have come to New York since last spring, with about 60,000 still under the city’s care. So far, the city has issued 60-day shelter notices to 13,500 migrants in shelter, while another approximately 690 have received a 30‑day notice, officials said at a briefing last week.

After the mayor criticized the federal government’s lack of a “decompression strategy” and the absence of significant federal funds, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent an assessment team in August to examine how the city was handling its migrant response. While the resulting evaluation has not been made public, DHS and the Biden administration sharply criticized New York City for having “no exit strategy” for asylum seekers in shelters.

When asked, City Hall did not respond to a request for comment about how it is handling resettlement plans. City officials previously pledged to provide “intensified casework” to those given shelter deadlines, and last week announced a three-tiered, color-coded strategy to indicate how much assistance an asylum seeker needs in leaving shelter, labeling each person’s case with red, yellow, or green status.

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Dr. Ted Long, Senior Vice President at New York City Health + Hospitals, unveiling a new case management system for asylum seekers on Sept. 27, 2023.

MedRite, an urgent care company that’s running the Holiday Inn shelter—where most of those interviewed for this story were staying—did not respond to a request for comment about what aid it’s providing around resettlement.

DocGo, another company contracted to provide services to asylum seekers, told City Limits it’s providing support in two main ways: “through reconnections to family or friends and case manager assistance with completing steps and building skills and connections for self-sufficiency,” spokesperson Michael Padovano wrote in an email. Case managers assist in finding connections to alternative housing programs or walking clients through the steps of signing a lease, the company said. 

However, migrants who spoke with City Limits said the only options they were given were transferring to the Randall’s Island tent shelter or receiving a travel ticket to destinations outside the city. 

After being told she’d be transferred from the Holiday Inn shelter, Luci—who asked that her full name not be used for fear of losing her job at a plastics factory in the Bronx—said she considered moving to North Carolina, where an acquaintance offered her a job. She asked shelter staff and was told help with a bus ticket would be immediate.

But after doing the math, she determined she would make more money in her current job than cleaning hotels in the South, so she stayed in the city.

After leaving shelter, the 57-year-old rented a coworker’s sofa for $150 a week. “I didn’t know she [the coworker] had cameras everywhere in her apartment, so I don’t feel comfortable,” Luci said in Spanish. “I have no privacy.”

Andres, who was also staying at the Holiday Inn in lower Manhattan, declined the transfer to Randall’s Island too. He left the shelter system on Sept. 7, thinking he might be able to find a room in his budget in Jackson Heights, Queens. He walked around and called every rental ad he could find.

“I found a listing, at random, and I called,” Andres said. Of the several places he tried, this one only asked for a one-month, $600 deposit to rent a bed in a room with two bunk beds for four adults. The rental included use of the apartment’s bathroom, but not the kitchen.

Neither Andres or Luci received a lease or other signed documents as part of their rental deals, highlighting the vulnerabilities immigrants can face in the city’s competitive housing market. 

In 2022, Citizens’ Committee for Children* analyzed housing data and found that immigrants, especially non-citizens, are more likely to experience rent burden. Immigrant households, particularly Latino households, are also more likely to live in overcrowded housing.

“We have heard of one person without a lease, living in an apartment with a makeshift wall,” said Adama Bah, who has been helping those arriving from the Texas border.

Lack of a credit history, credit score and Social Security Number—required by most landlords to apply for an apartment—has further complicated migrants’ search for housing. Though many have found off-the-books work, they may not have a formal work contract to prove it. 

“Many of us have not been able to rent because of lack of documents,” said Carlos, 26, a Venezuelan immigrant who had also been staying at the Holiday Inn.

He and other Venezuelans will be aided by President Biden’s recent decision to grant the country “temporary protected status” (TPS), which opens the door to legally live and work in the U.S. The Adams administration has urged the White House to further speed up work authorization for other asylum seekers, who under federal law face a 150-day waiting period before they can legally seek employment.

The other major hurdle is saving enough money for the deposit, one month’s rent, and broker’s fee often required for New York City rentals. Carlos and his partner are living in the house of an acquaintance who opened her doors to them temporarily, but constantly asks when they are going to move out.

“We would need at least $2,000 to be able to move into a room,” Carlos estimated, saying they hope to have enough within a few weeks. 

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*Editor’s note: CCC is a City Limits funder.