Police patrol outside of a migrant shelter in Brooklyn on...

 Police patrol outside of a migrant shelter in Brooklyn on July 21. Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Arbitration will help decide the fate of New York City’s decades-old, unique-in-the-nation, right-to-shelter mandate as the Adams administration copes with an unyielding influx of foreign migrants seeking taxpayer-funded room and board.

Judge Gerald Lebovits of state Supreme Court in Manhattan said Thursday that arbitration will be used to resolve the litigation between the Adams administration, which wants permission to suspend the mandate for certain migrants, and homelessness advocates, who want to keep the mandate in place for anyone who needs help.

New York State is also a party to the case — and the arbitration — because in the original legal settlement in 1981 that created the right to shelter, the state agreed to pay some of the costs associated with sheltering homeless people.

The arbitrator will be the judge, and the parties will meet in the judge's chambers.

In a statement, two of the groups fighting to keep the mandate as is, the Legal Aid Society and the Coalition for the Homeless, said they hoped that the right to shelter emerges from arbitration intact, as was agreed to in the 1980s during litigation that ended in a consent decree.

“Legal Aid and the Coalition look forward to working with the State, the City and the court through this process to both preserve the consent decree and guarantee that anyone in need of shelter in our city has access to that right, one that has defined New York City for the last four decades,” the statement said.

The advocates say that rolling back the right to shelter would lead to massive street homelessness akin to what’s seen in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In a statement, Jonah Allon, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams, said that “the status quo cannot continue,” and the parties to the settlement reached in the litigation, initiated with lead plaintiff Robert Callahan, a homeless alcoholic living in the Bowery, couldn't possibly have contemplated the current migrant crisis. 

“As we have said before, the Callahan decree — entered over 40 years ago, when the shelter population was a fraction of its current size — was never intended to apply to the extraordinary circumstances our city faces today as more than an average of 10,000 migrants continue to enter our city every month seeking shelter,” the spokesman said.

 More than 130,000 migrants have come through the city system since spring 2022, and about half are living in city-funded shelters and hotels. The cost to the city is forecast to be $12 billion by next fiscal year.

Earlier this year, the Adams administration began tightening rules around how long a migrant may stay in city-funded housing, angering homelessness advocates. The restrictions started with adults without accompanying children, who were told to leave after 60 days and forced to reapply.

Since then, the amount of time someone is allowed to stay in a shelter has been reduced, depending on the circumstances of each case, and the eviction policy expanded to certain other migrants.

Adams, who has opened more than 200 sites for migrants to live and eat, initially welcomed migrants, but has since changed his public stance.

Newsday reported in June that only a tiny fraction of the migrants have formally applied for asylum, most won’t be granted asylum,  and that an unknown number will remain in the United States illegally.

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