NEW YORK—The city cannot afford to pay for Hurricane Sandy evacuees still living in New York City hotels, according to a motion filed by the city attorney’s office. The Sept. 23 motion states that after FEMA reimbursements stop at the end of the month, evacuees in hotels should go to homeless shelters or find other housing.
To date, FEMA has been directly funding some hotel stays but their program ended earlier this month. A separate, long-anticipated reimbursement from FEMA recently came through. It will cover the cost of the city’s more than $73-million program for housing and social service assistance. But FEMA will not make any additional reimbursements past Sept. 30.
In May, Justice Margaret Chan issued an injunction to prevent the city from ending the hotel program in light of the impending FEMA reimbursements. At the time, 375 households were being housed in a network of 45 hotels around the city.
That included both homeowners and renters who were forced to evacuate their homes after Sandy.
In legal documents filed with the New York Supreme Court on Sept. 18, the city attorney’s office asked the judge to lift a May injunction that allowed for the remaining evacuees to stay in the hotels. As of Monday, there were 166 households staying in 200 rooms.
Michael A. Cardozo, Corp. Counsel for the City, said that the end of FEMA funding is grounds for Judge Chan to lift the injunction. Cardozo added that if the hotel program is allowed to end, necessary transitional support would be provided. One form of support being offered is settling people in homeless shelters.
“If the injunction is lifted, any household without permanent or alternative housing arrangements may seek temporary housing assistance from the Department of Homeless Services,” said Cardozo in a formal statement released by the City Attorney’s office. The statement also said that in addition to access to the shelter system, social services will be provided “to households in need.”
Advocates argue that the shelter system is already overburdened.
“It’s unfathomable that the city wants to pull the rug out from under these vulnerable families that were made homeless from [one of] the worst natural disasters to hit the city,” said Patrick Markee, a senior policy analyst with the New York City-based Coalition for the Homeless. Markee pointed out that although there is already a record-high of 51,000 people in the shelter system, the real issue is the city’s inaction.
“The city dragged its feet for more than a year to put together housing assistance,” said Markee. “It’s not about whether there’s room in the homeless shelters.”
According to the Coalition, it costs about $3,000 a month to shelter a homeless family. The city has been spending $266 a day for each hotel room.
Konrad Cailteux and Jesse Morris of Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP are attorneys representing the case on behalf of evacuees in the hotels as co-counsel with the Legal Aid Society. Weil and Legal Aid filed a class-action suit filed earlier this year on behalf of Sandy evacuees in the hotels.
According to Cailteux and Morris, since the end of July the city began sending notices of termination of benefits, which includes housing and some assistance with food. Weil and Legal Aid said they have raised numerous objections with the city that the notices did not give enough information and time for the Sandy evacuees to contest the actions.
The Department of Homeless Services has taken a similar approach since April, when the program was originally intended to end.
The City is also appealing the May 2013 injunction to a mid-level state appellate court. A 2 p.m. hearing is scheduled for Sept. 26.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Judge Chan had not made a decision in the case. There was no indication as to when her decision might come.
UPDATE: This article has been updated for further clarification.