New York Could Save $3 Billion by Providing Housing Vouchers for Migrants

asylum seekers in New York City

Recently arrived migrants outside of The Roosevelt Hotel show passports to NYC employees. (Credit Image: © Edna Leshowitz/ZUMA Press Wire)

Giving New York’s more than 58,000 asylum seekers housing vouchers instead of housing them in homeless shelters could save the city a whopping $3 billion per year, according to a new report from the New York Immigration Coalition.

The report was released when New York officials are facing increased scrutiny from the Biden-Harris administration about how they are handling the staggering influx of asylum seekers.

Overall, there are more than 110,000 asylum seekers in New York. This has put increased strain on the city’s shelter system, which some advocates have previously said needs to be completely redesigned.

The report suggests that providing housing vouchers for asylum seekers could also free up space inside New York’s shelter system to support the city’s homeless people. More than 82,000 people sleep in the city’s shelter system on a given night, data from the city’s Department of Human Services shows. That figure includes 58,000 asylum seekers alone.

Meanwhile, the number of unsheltered New Yorkers increased by 18% year-over-year to more than 4,000 people.

“Permanent housing, rather than short-term stays in emergency shelters, is how people can get on the road to a self-sufficient and stable life,” NYIC Executive Director Murad Awawdeh said. “We must remove the barriers and red tape from our shelter system that are prohibitive of supporting our unhoused neighbors from finding secure housing.”

New York’s shelter system was widely considered one of the most successful before the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020.

The state has what’s called a “right to shelter” that was established in the 1979 court case Callahan v. Carey. The right to shelter requires the city to provide enough space to house those who need it, but it does not apply to the entire state, according to New York’s Coalition for the Homeless.

However, the efficacy of New York’s right to shelter has been challenged by the hordes of asylum seekers that have arrived in the city over the last several months. In turn, Mayor Eric Adams has proposed scrapping the right to shelter altogether. Adams has also asked Gov. Kathy Hochul to help devise a plan to relocate the asylum seekers out of New York.

Adams has also spoken out against the Biden-Harris administration for allegedly not doing enough to help New York weather the asylum-seeker crisis. Politico reported that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas responded to those claims in a letter to Adams and Hochul on August 28 and said there are several areas where New York could improve its shelter system.

“The structural issues include governance and organization of the migrant operations, including issues of authority, structure, personnel, and information flow,” Mayorkas wrote in the letter. “The operational issues include the subjects of data collection, planning, case management, communications, and other aspects of day-to-day operations.”

To shelter provider WIN NYC CEO Christine Quinn, the answer to New York’s shelter struggles is simpler than officials make it seem:

Give asylum seekers housing vouchers instead of temporary housing placements.

“We know housing vouchers are one of the most effective tools we have to support people as they move into permanent homes,” Quinn said. “Expanding housing vouchers is the right thing to do from a human and a financial perspective — and we urge the City and State to immediately embrace this common-sense solution.”

Other advocates are calling on New York leaders to develop a statewide strategy for dealing with the influx of asylum seekers. The Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless issued a joint statement on August 28. They said the asylum seekers in New York are facing dire challenges that need immediate solutions.

“As tens of thousands of asylum seekers and other new arrivals continue to come to New York seeking help on their path to stability, we need all three levels of government working cooperatively to address the many challenges rather than engaging in endless finger-pointing in the press,” the statement reads. “The situation is going to continue to get more dire, and real solutions are needed immediately.”

How You Can Help

The pandemic proved that we need to rethink housing in the U.S. It also showed that aid programs work when providing agencies and service organizations with sufficient funds and clear guidance on spending aid dollars.

Contact your officials and representatives. Tell them you support keeping many of the pandemic-related aid programs in place for future use. They have proven effective at keeping people housed, which is the first step to ending homelessness.

Robert Davis

Robert Davis

Robert is a freelance journalist based in Colorado who covers housing, police, and local government.

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