NYC has “fully exhausted” traditional options in managing migrant crisis, official says

A top official in Mayor Adams administration revealed Monday that the agencies spearheading the city’s response to the migrant crisis have “fully exhausted” traditional options and are now “continuously stretching the bounds” of what they can do.

The message that the city is now at a breaking point when it comes to the migrant situation came from Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park, who testified Monday at a City Council hearing that the Adams administration has now begun reaching out to its agencies to identify spare space in city buildings to house asylum seekers.

That comes just three days after the mayor announced the city would soon begin sending asylum seekers to hotels in upstate New York due to the dearth of available space in the city.

“We have fully exhausted all of the resources — the normal resources — of our system,” Park told the Council on Monday. “The upstate effort is really a reflection of the fact that this has put overwhelming pressure on DSS and on the city as a whole. We are occupying at this point a large share of hotels in New York City and we need to look for strategies that go beyond the city’s borders.”

Since last April, the city has struggled to absorb the more than 60,000 migrants who’ve flooded into the city, most of them from Latin America, and in recent weeks the strain of that effort has appeared to worsen, prompting Mayor Adams to criticize President Biden by name.

On Friday, Mayor Adams announced that to deal with the overflow, the city intends to house migrants in hotels in Orange and Rockland counties — a decision Rockland County Executive Ed Day, a Republican, criticized, saying that the county doesn’t have the “infrastructure” to care for the migrants.

Park defended Adams’ move and made the distinction between the city’s approach and that of others, most likely a dig at Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who Mayor Adams has criticized for directing busloads of migrants to New York without coordinating with local leaders.

“This is not an abdication of city responsibility. This is a proposal where the city is continuing to cover the costs of this work,” she said. “Other governments across the country have responded to this crisis by just shipping people in various levels of political stunts. This is an attempt by New York City to look for opportunities that go beyond the physical boundaries of New York City, but without relinquishing our responsibility to serve those individuals.”

She also noted that she had communicated with her “counterparts” in Rockland and Orange County, but when asked whether they had a choice in receiving the migrants, she said that her “understanding is no.”

Park did not rule out other, future upstate options for housing migrants, and suggested that while the city plans to send single men to the upstate hotels for the time being, the new policy could also include women and children in the weeks to come.

“This is a very rapidly evolving situation, and we are not taking any options off the table at this point,” she said.

In addition to the upstate hotel plan, the city has relied on homeless shelters, city hotels and emergency relief centers to house migrants and recently began placing migrants in an old NYPD academy gym as well.

That move to house people in the old police academy gym is still in such flux that Park said it isn’t yet clear which city agency will pay for the expense.

“We are looking at all of the tools we have in our toolbox,” she said. “This has very much been an emergency response and there are still details to be resolved here.”

The decisions to use the gym, to identify other city buildings as temporary housing and to send migrants upstate all come at a precarious moment for Mayor Adams and are among several signs that the city’s grasp of the situation is slipping away.

Last week, the city learned that it would get under $31 million in federal aid to deal with the migrant crisis — far less than Mayor Adams hoped for.

Title 42, a controversial policy instituted under former President Trump that prevented many Latin American migrants from seeking asylum in the U.S. is set to expire on Thursday — a potential outcome that has city officials concerned even more migrants will come to the Big Apple seeking asylum in the coming weeks.

If that happens, it will compound a recent influx of migrants, which is being caused in part by Abbott renewing his policy of busing them to the city after they’ve crossed the border into Texas from Mexico.

According to Park, the number of migrants coming into the city rose to 500 per day last week compared to the about 200 new arrivals who came into the city per day just two weeks ago.

She noted that it’s those increases that have likely led to diverging cost estimates from the administration and the city’s Independent Budget Office.

Adam’s budget team has projected that managing the crisis will require $4.3 billion in spending through July 2024, while the IBO has offered more modest estimates, ranging from $600 million to $1.7 billion less than what the administration currently projects.

The additional cost of the migrant crisis has led Adams to institute austerity measures in the form of what’s known as Programs to Eliminate the Gap, or PEGs, which all city agencies are subject to, including the Department of Social Services.

During Monday’s Council hearing, Councilwoman Diana Ayala (D-Manhattan) pointed out that part of those cuts are being directed at non-profit contractors that provide services under the Department of Social Services budget, and that those cuts amount to nearly $39 million annually — cuts that she suggested could be devastating in the long term.

“It does not make sense to cut homeless and social services at a time of record need,” she said. “Providers that I have spoken to do not believe this program can be implemented without permanently reducing services.”

Park responded that the cut is not “a reduction that we took lightly” and that she’s trying to give the non-profits “flexibility” in identifying savings.

“Understanding the very significant fiscal challenges that the city is facing, we felt like we had to look to the providers,” she said.