Seven local organizations sought permission to file an amicus brief in support of the City Council and Legal Aid Society’s lawsuit, which is looking to compel the Adams administration to implement a package of laws to expand eligibility for CityFHEPS, a rental subsidy program.

Gerardo Romo / NYC Council Media Unit

Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, who sponsored two of the bills the mayor has so far refused to implement, speaks at a rally in support of CityFHEPS expansion last summer.

A group of homeless advocacy organizations are weighing in on a lawsuit against the Adams administration over its refusal to implement a package of laws that would expand the city’s rental subsidy program to more New Yorkers.

The seven local groups—Win, Coalition for the Homeless, Help USA, Homeless Services United, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, New York Coalition for Homeless Youth, and Community Service Society of New York (a City Limits funder)—are seeking the court’s permission to file an amicus brief in the case.

They’re backing Legal Aid Society and the City Council’s efforts to compel City Hall to enforce the legislation, which lawmakers passed last summer—overriding the mayor’s veto—and which would expand eligibility for City Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (CityFHEPS) rental vouchers.

Under the program, voucher holders pay up to 30 of their income on rent, up to a set maximum, while the city covers the difference. The Council’s legislation would extend eligibility to include those earning 50 percent of the area median income (currently $69,900 for a family of three in New York City), eliminate work requirements and allow households at risk of eviction to apply without requiring they spend time in the shelter system first, among other reforms.

“As experts who are in the trenches working with and advocating for individuals experiencing homelessness, [we] urge this Court to order Respondents to implement these common-sense laws before more New Yorkers are needlessly forced into homelessness,” reads the document the advocacy groups filed with the court Tuesday.

In a statement, Christine Quinn, a former Council speaker who is now president of the shelter provider Win, called CityFHEPS “a tried-and-true program that reduces homelessness,” and that the administration’s inaction on the bills, “not only makes it harder for families to exit shelter but undermines New York’s ability to combat the homelessness crisis.”

Mayor Eric Adams has maintained that expanding the program would be too costly and would make it harder for existing voucher holders to find apartments, citing a historically low availability of affordable rental housing.

City Hall pointed to its other efforts to improve CityFHEPS: eliminating a rule that required applicants spend at least 90 days in shelter before they could be eligible, letting people use vouchers to rent homes in New York outside the city, and offering more flexibility on using vouchers cover utility costs. In February, the city launched an initiative to “fast-track” the creation of hundreds of affordable units specifically for voucher holders in shelter.

“Let’s be clear: Since day one, Mayor Adams and this administration have been dedicated to connecting as many New Yorkers to permanent, affordable homes as possible and we’ve made historic progress in doing just that,” a spokesperson for City Hall said in a statement.

The administration also argues that the Council doesn’t have the legal authority to legislate public assistance reforms, citing New York State’s Social Services Law, claiming it only extends that power to certain state agencies as well as to the city’s Department of Social Services, which can do so as a “local arm of” the state.

Legal Aid Society, which filed the lawsuit in February on behalf of a proposed class of New Yorkers who say they’re unable to access vouchers due to the mayor’s refusal to enact the expansion, has disputed that reasoning.

“The Council has long legislated in the field of social services, and its role in these matters is clearly found in the relevant statutory and case law,” Legal Aid attorneys wrote in court papers filed last week. It cited several past examples, including in 2021 when lawmakers passed a bill to raise the value of CityFHEPS vouchers, which the city implemented.

“We’re still in the midst of a five decade old homelessness crisis in New York City, and we need to help people move into permanent housing. That is really the only solution,” said Dave Giffen of Coalition for the Homeless, one of the seven organizations that filed the amicus brief. “Vouchers are not the only solution to mass homelessness, but they’re a very effective solution.”

The legal fight is playing out on the heels of another battle between homeless advocates and City Hall over New York’s right to shelter rules. A settlement was recently reached in that case that temporarily narrows re-sheltering rights for newly arrived immigrants. (Currently, undocumented people are not eligible for CityFHEPs).

“After what we’ve been through now with the challenge to the right to shelter, the mayor needs to stop trying to duck his responsibilities to the people in the city who are most in need,” Giffen added.