Legal Aid sues mayor to force city voucher expansion 

Council reportedly expected to join suit against administration

Legal Aid Sues Adams Over Housing Vouchers
Mayor Eric Adams and Speaker Adrienne Adams (Getty)

Four New Yorkers who would be eligible for city housing vouchers under new rules are suing Mayor Eric Adams to force his administration to implement four laws approved last year.

The proposed class action lawsuit, filed by the Legal Aid Society on behalf of the tenants, seeks to force the Adams administration to immediately abide by laws that expand eligibility for the City Fighting Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement. 

“Households eligible for the housing stability made possible by a CityFHEPS voucher are being evicted from affordable homes and/or remain languishing in shelter as the City’s homelessness crisis continues to worsen,” the lawsuit claims.

The City Council approved the measures in May over the objections of the mayor. The following month, the mayor vetoed the bills, a decision the Council successfully overrode. However, the administration has not implemented the laws, citing the cost of expanding eligibility and the increase in competition for housing it would create for existing voucher holders. 

Last week, the City Council authorized Speaker Adrienne Adams to sue the mayor to force implementation of the bills. Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala on Wednesday voiced support for the complaint. The Council is expected to join the lawsuit, according to the New York Times.  

A representative for the Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

A spokesperson for Adams said the mayor is committed to “connecting as many New Yorkers to permanent, affordable homes as possible” but believes the four measures are not the best path forward.

“The Council’s bill will only make it harder for New Yorkers in shelter to move into permanent housing,” a spokesperson for the mayor said in a statement. “Furthermore, the bills violate state law as they seek to legislate in an area where authority is reserved to the state.” 

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The lawsuit details how petitioners Mary Cronneit, Carolina Tejeda, Susan Acks and Marie Vincent would qualify for vouchers under the new laws, but otherwise face the threat of shelter. For example, the lawsuit says Vincent, who works in housekeeping in a hospital, is living in a shelter with her grandson. Her income, at $48,000 a year, is too high to qualify under old voucher rules but not enough to afford an apartment, according to the complaint.   

One of the laws changes the income eligibility for vouchers from a maximum income from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 50 percent of the area median income. The income threshold for a family of two would increase to $56,500 from $39,220.

Another repealed a rule that required individuals and families to spend at least 90 days in homeless shelters before they can apply for CityFHEPS. The mayor subsequently signed an executive order similar to that measure, but with added work requirements. The administration also made vouchers available to tenants throughout the state.

The other two laws expanded voucher eligibility to people at risk of homelessness or eviction and aimed to help low-income tenants pay utility bills.

In the lead up to the passage of the bills, real estate groups supported some of the measures, while acknowledging that the effectiveness of vouchers is hindered by the lack of available housing. The Real Estate Board of New York, for example, testified in favor of the measures eliminating the 90-day rule and raising the income threshold.

Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, wrote on the social media site X that he is a “big supporter of vouchers” but appeared to push back on efforts by Legal Aid and other groups related to rent-stabilized housing. 

“If you sue to expand vouchers while actively working to diminish the supply of housing as some groups consistently do you are making the housing crises [sic] worse,” he wrote. “Vouchers without supply is ice in the winter.”

The mayor’s relationship with the City Council has frayed in recent months. In addition to the fight over the housing voucher measures, the Council overrode two more of the mayor’s vetoes, related to the How Many Stops Act, which requires police officers to document investigative street stops, and a measure to limit solitary confinement.

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