In a Tuesday letter, Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said the Department of Social Services has until Feb. 7 to begin implementing CityFHEPS voucher bills or her body will have “no other option” but to take legal action. 

John McCarten/NYC Council Media Unit

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams.

A protracted housing policy fight between Mayor Eric Adams and the New York City Council could soon be headed to court. 

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams issued an ultimatum to Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Molly Wasow Park on Tuesday, writing that the Council will have “no other option but to take legal action” if the agency does not take “concrete, verifiable steps” to implement reforms to a city-issued voucher program by Feb. 7.

The letter, reviewed by City Limits, comes after Park told the body in December that three laws aimed at expanding access to City Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement, or CityFHEPS, vouchers—Local Laws 100 through 102 of 2023—“cannot be implemented at this time.” 

Mayor Eric Adams initially vetoed the laws last summer, but the Council overrode his veto in July, in what amounted to the body’s first veto override since Michael Bloomberg’s mayoralty. The laws are supposed to take effect today. 

Launched in 2018, the CityFHEPS program allows tenants to pay part of their income in rent, up to 30 percent, while the city covers the rest, up to a fixed maximum. More than 36,000 households currently receive these vouchers.

Local Laws 100, 101 and 102 are closely interrelated and together extend CityFHEPS eligibility to people experiencing homelessness outside of traditional Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelters, including youth, in addition to raising the income ceiling and eliminating work rules.

A 90-day waiting period to become eligible for CityFHEPS in shelter is also eliminated—a change Adams plucked out and implemented last summer before vetoing the Council bills.

Additionally, the laws expand eligibility for CityFHEPS outside of shelter, to income-qualifying tenants who receive formal notice that they are behind on rent and could face eviction. Proponents say this could help low-income renters hold onto their homes and avoid onerous apartment searches on the open market.

In her Dec. 15 letter to Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala, Park cited “substantial financial, operational and legal issues” with these three CityFHEPS laws. 

She wrote that the laws impede on the state’s authority to set voucher policy, and that their “vast cost” outside of the annual budget adoption process indicates they may not be binding. 

But Speaker Adams wrote Tuesday that the New York City Charter obligates the administration to implement all laws that the Council passes, and that the city has successfully modified the CityFHEPS program in the past. For example, the city increased voucher values in 2021. 

She described Park’s comments that costs violate mayoral and Council budget authorities as “unfounded.” 

“DSS’s refusal to enforce duly enacted laws passed by the Council is unlawful and unacceptable,” she wrote. 

Cost estimates for the Council package vary. City Hall has projected $17 billion over five years, though a new analysis from the Independent Budget Office says the administration used an inflated per-voucher cost. 

City Hall has agreed to implement one of the four laws, Local Law 99, to help voucher recipients use their subsidy to cover utility costs. 

Also on Tuesday, the Legal Aid Society announced its intention to sue the Adams administration in the coming weeks to compel full implementation of the CityFHEPS package.

Reached for comment, City Hall referred to a prior statement on CityFHEPS, saying the Adams administration has taken steps to streamline CityFHEPS and that housing placements from shelter increased 17 percent last fiscal year compared to the year prior.

“We always seek to work collaboratively with 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 statement read.*

Read Speaker Adams’ letter in full below.

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*This story has been updated with a response from City Hall.