In a scathing letter Tuesday night, a lawyer representing Gov. Kathy Hochul faulted Mayor Eric Adams’s management of New York’s migrant crisis in sharp terms, puncturing the appearance of city-state harmony that the two leaders have spent much of their tenures cultivating.
New York City is struggling to accommodate more than 100,000 migrants who have crossed the nation’s southern border, more than 57,000 of whom remain in city shelters. Mr. Adams has said that the city is running out of space and funds to support them, and has begged for more help from the state and federal government.
But in an apparent attempt to fend off even costlier new requests from the Adams administration, the letter criticizes the city for failing to accept numerous state offers of assistance over the last year, including the use of more than a dozen state-owned sites that it said could be converted into shelters to house more than 3,000 migrants.
It also blames the Adams administration for being slow to act, saying the city ignored a suggestion to begin setting up large tent-based campsites for single adult men beginning in June 2022, waiting months to do so. The letter also says the city did not prioritize helping migrants fill out paperwork to start getting their work permits, meaning thousands who could now be working are not.
“The city has not made timely requests for regulatory changes, has not always promptly shared necessary information with the state, has not implemented programs in a timely manner, and has not consulted the state before taking certain actions,” the state’s lawyer, Faith E. Gay, wrote.
She added: “The city can and should do more to act in a proactive and collaborative manner with the state.”
The 12-page letter, which was obtained by The New York Times, constituted Albany’s formal response to a list of requests the city privately presented to a state judge in Manhattan last week as part of a legal proceeding over how to care for the influx of migrants.
The city laid out those requests in a separate letter Mr. Adams’s administration sent to the state last week, the contents of which have not been previously reported. In the letter, the Adams administration asked the state to cover two-thirds of the cost of sheltering the migrants, “in the absence of meaningful federal funding.”
The city also asked the state to assert more organizational ownership of the problem, by implementing “a statewide relocation program to resettle groups of new arrivals throughout the state’s counties in proportion to the counties’ respective share of the state population.”
While migrants have been arriving in New York City in large numbers since last year, their presence has recently grown more visible. It has become commonplace to see migrant women and children selling candy on city subways. And the city’s choices of sites to place shelters, including soccer fields, recreation centers and a parking lot in Queens, have angered some residents and led to protests.
In late July and early August, the city left hundreds of migrants to sleep on the sidewalk outside the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, which has been turned into a city intake center, even though the city reportedly had hundreds of beds available in shelters.
In response, the Legal Aid Society asked a State Supreme Court in Manhattan to step in to enforce the city’s court-ordered mandate to house every homeless person who requests it. The judge overseeing the case then ordered the city to identify “the resources and facilities owned, operated and/or controlled by the state” that could help it keep the migrants housed and indicated she would push the state to take a more active role.
The city responded last Wednesday, with the letter requesting the state fill the void left by the federal government, by footing more of the bill and implementing a statewide resettlement plan.
Ms. Hochul’s forceful rebuke was the latest fissure among Democrats in response to the migrant crisis.
For months, New York Democrats, including the governor and the mayor, have blamed President Biden for a weak federal response and have demanded he provide more funding, expedite work permits for migrants and free up federal facilities where they may be housed.
But Ms. Hochul herself has increasingly been the target of criticism, as well. The mayor, as well as community organizations aiding migrants, have called on the governor to take a more hands-on approach to ease New York City’s burden.
“The governor’s response so far has been disturbingly inadequate,” said Dave Giffen, the executive director of Coalition for the Homeless, an advocacy group. “From day one, she should have been involved here on the front lines. This is a state issue.”
Republicans have already homed in on the migrant crisis to attack Democrats ahead of the 2024 elections. Ms. Hochul has been cautious about taking any actions — such as executive orders to compel unwilling counties to take in migrants — that could lead them to amplify those attacks.
So far, however, Mr. Adams and other Democrats have focused much of their fire on the White House.
The state’s letter on Tuesday could disturb that dynamic.
“Governor Hochul is grateful to Mayor Adams and his team for their work to address this ongoing humanitarian crisis,” Avi Small, a spokesman for Ms. Hochul, said Wednesday morning. “Governor Hochul has deployed unprecedented resources to support the City’s efforts and will continue working closely with them to provide aid and support.”
A spokesman for Mr. Adams had no immediate comment.
Ms. Gay, who wrote the letter sent Tuesday night by the state, is a lawyer at Selendy Gay Elsberg, a city-based firm. Ms. Hochul retained the firm last week after the state attorney general took the unusual step of declining to represent her, citing a “philosophical difference” over the state’s role in managing the crisis.
Ms. Hochul’s response may also reflect another calculation. New York City is unique in its so-called right-to-shelter mandate, the product of a decades-old consent decree that requires it to provide a bed to anyone who asks for it.
Ms. Hochul indicated last week that she was concerned the judge might reopen the 1981 consent degree, and, in so doing, extend the mandate statewide.
The city has struggled to meet the right-to-shelter mandate and asked the courts in May to relieve it of its unique obligation — so far without success.
In the meantime, the city asked in its letter, signed by the city’s assistant corporation counsel, Daniel R. Perez, for the state to ease the requirements of an existing program to send migrants elsewhere in the state, including one requiring new arrivals to complete asylum applications beforehand.
It also asked the state “to consider engaging with neighboring states to arrange for the resettlement of new arrivals outside the state.”
It specifically requested shelters at the Javits Center in Midtown Manhattan, vacant upstate summer camps, shuttered drug treatment facilities and State University of New York dormitories.
In its written response, the state cast itself as a “vital partner” ready to make extraordinary efforts to help the city, but appeared to reject some of the city’s proposals and chastised City Hall for moving too slowly to take advantage of existing legal and financial lifelines.
For example, the state has promised to spend $1.5 billion this fiscal year to reimburse the city for shelter costs and provide nearly 2,000 National Guard members to staff migrant sites. The state’s letter said that it had already advanced $250 million of those funds, but had only received reimbursement documentation from the city for $138 million.
The state noted that it was providing the funds, “despite public reporting that raises substantial questions about the operations and conduct of the City’s primary contractor.” The letter refers to a New York Times report about the city’s reliance on a problem-plagued medical services company, DocGo, which won a $432 million no-bid contract.
The state said it had also offered to pay for 1,250 migrant households to move out of the city and fund a year of their rent. But its letter said city officials had given the state a list of only 252 households — just 17 of which “have expressed a willingness to move.” The city says the eligibility requirements are too restrictive.
And though the state has offered to let the city use more than a dozen separate state sites in New York City as migrant shelters, including armories, college gyms and the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens that together could house more than 3,000 migrants, “the city has not accepted these offers,” the state said.
The governor’s lawyer also suggested that a statewide resettlement plan, the city’s first request, was unfeasible.
“Many migrants will not willingly move outside of the city, and the state will not sanction a policy of involuntarily relocating individuals or families within or beyond state borders,” the Hochul administration’s letter reads.
“As one example of the negative impacts of such efforts, on Aug. 7, 2023, the city sent a bus of 77 individuals to Rochester, New York, and 30 of those individuals refused to get off the bus and returned to the city.”
The two sides seem to agree on at least one thing: increasing pressure on the Biden administration to allocate billions of dollars more in federal aid to reimburse the city and to expedite the process allowing migrants to legally seek work.
Andy Newman contributed reporting.