Migrant, homeless advocates demand housing vouchers for undocumented, point to $3 billion in annual savings

NEW YORK — Advocates are calling on Mayor Eric Adams’ to extend housing vouchers to undocumented immigrants living in New York City — an unprecedented move they say will help alleviate pressure on the city’s homeless shelter system while saving taxpayers $3 billion annually amid the city’s rapidly expanding migrant crisis.

The homeless service provider Win and the New York Immigration Coalition laid out the logic for their demand in a new report exclusively shared with the Daily News that weighs the costs of housing migrants in emergency hotels against an expanded housing voucher. According to their analysis, using figures from the city, academia and the press, it costs $383 a day to house people in hotels versus upwards of $72 per day for funding a more robust housing voucher program.

They contend shifting the cost burden away from more expensive hotel shelters to housing vouchers — which would go toward paying for more permanent housing — could save the city $3 billion a year.

Their proposal comes just weeks after Adams announced that the cost of paying for the migrant crisis could balloon to $12 billion over the next three years.

Christine Quinn, who heads Win and previously served as City Council speaker, said the analysis conducted by her non-profit and the Immigration Coalition shows that expanding housing credits known as City FHEPS vouchers to undocumented is the most practical path forward, both financially and morally.

“Right now, we are moving asylum seekers into shelters or hotels, and they have no way to get out of those shelters or hotels because they don’t have working papers per the federal government and they don’t have any help in paying the rent,” she said. “The emergency hotels are $383 a night. If you gave undocumented people CityFHEPS vouchers it would cost $72 a night. That’s an enormous, enormous difference. That’s where the savings comes in, and that’s where the stabilizing comes in.”

Since April 2022, approximately 100,000 migrants have come to the city, mostly from Latin America countries. Of those, nearly 60,000 remain in the city’s care. In addition to providing shelter and other services for the newly-arrived migrant population, the city is currently housing nearly 83,000 people in its shelter system — most of whom are native New Yorkers. All of it has put an extreme strain on the city’s social safety net, and, as the mayor often points out, at great cost to taxpayers.

Adams has also been calling on the federal government for months to expedite work authorizations for migrants, but so far, the status quo has remained intact. And while that would require federal intervention, Quinn and Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, point to expanding FHEPS eligibility as a way the city can act on its own to better address the situation.

Some questions remain about whether the mayor could enact such a policy on his own or if he would require state intervention, said Quinn.

Federal law prohibits certain benefits for the undocumented, but it also allows for states to make exceptions to that overriding legal principle.

Quinn said some interpretations of existing law support the idea that the city can act on its own — without input from the state — but that remains to be seen.

“It’s long past time that the city move out of its emergency response and into a long-term approach that gets people onto their feet,” Awawdeh said. “It’s drastically, significantly cheaper.”

Awawdeh said the idea of expanding FHEPS to undocumented immigrants has been floated at the city level before, but noted that advocates hadn’t been previously armed with data that showed how much the city would save. Quinn said renewed conversations with City Hall are now in the beginning stages.

“I have meetings scheduled in the next couple of weeks with both Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom and Deputy Mayor Torres-Springer to talk about these issues,” she said. “We’ve raised them with different leaders in the City Council who are very open to the idea.”

As Quinn prepares for her temperature-taking excursion to City Hall, the Adams administration has so far remained mum on it.

“We will review the report, but cannot comment directly on its findings without reviewing the underlying methodology,” an Adams spokesman said.

A spokesman for Gov. Hochul did not immediately respond to questions from The News.

The proposal, if rejected by Team Adams, could lead to a dynamic similar to the one that recently played out when the Council passed a law to expand housing voucher eligibility to include tenants who’ve received a written rent demand from a landlord. Adams vetoed the Council’s bill, but that was later overriden thanks to the veto-proof majority secured in the lawmaking body.

A Council spokesman also did not immediately respond to calls. But at least one Council member said he’s against the proposal and questioned the savings outlined in the report from Win and the Immigration Coalition.

“It’s only saving $3 billion in housing costs that they’re making us pay by propping up the right-to-shelter law and sanctuary city status,” said Republican Councilman Joe Borelli, referring to the law that requires the city to provide shelter to anyone who requests it. “This is nothing more than the standard money-grows-on-trees approach from these lefty groups.”

Awawdeh countered that in the long-term the influx of migrants will ultimately benefit the city and state’s workforce.

“This is an opportunity for our workforce needs to be met,” he said. “We have 5,000 agricultural jobs across the state that aren’t being filled, over 5,000 hospitality jobs, thousands of jobs in the healthcare industry — and we need the workforce. This is a golden opportunity for the city and the state, and the city is not seeing it that way.”