New York City’s emergency shelter system already was overloaded before a surge of migrant asylum-seekers began arriving last spring on buses from other states.
As the crisis unfolded, NYC quickly opened more than 200 ad hoc emergency shelters to deal with the initial waves of migrants pouring into the five boroughs seeking shelter. The 200 sites quickly filled with 56,000 people.
NYC turned to vacant hotels as its next patchwork solution, inking deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In January, a $275M deal was reached with the Hotel Association of NYC to house at least 5,000 migrants.
Another high-profile deal was made in May to convert the iconic Roosevelt Hotel on the East Side into migrant housing—as well as a main “intake center” for migrants entering Manhattan, who previously had been dropped off at the dilapidated Port Authority Bus Terminal.
According to reports, the city rented 1,025 hotel rooms at the Roosevelt for 36 months at a $200 rate. Numerous other deals were cut with lesser-known aging hotel properties that had emptied out during the pandemic.
The city’s economic development agency also scoured real estate listings for vacant office properties that can be converted to emergency housing. But all of these efforts could not meet the burgeoning demand.
At the end of July, as the migrant surge swelled to a total of 110,000 people, the use of hotels as front-line emergency shelters broke down in a very public way at the highest-profile shelter: hundreds of people ended up sleeping on the sidewalks in 100-degree weather outside the Roosevelt, after capacity was exceeded at the famous old venue on 45th Street.
Handing out red tickets—the kind you get at amusement parks—were employees of DocGo, a city subcontractor originally hired to do Covid-19 testing, who had been awarded a $423M contract to place asylum-seekers in an alternate shelter system run by the Health + Hospitals Corporation.
When the number on the red ticket was called, the person holding it could go inside and fill out an application in the air-conditioned lobby, according to a report in The City.
This week, with the city desperately setting up cots in high-school gymnasiums and the influx of migrants into NYC now accelerating to more than 10,000 people per week, Mayor Eric Adams said he would have to enact across-the-board budget cuts to pay for the exploding cost of absorbing the migrant influx.
Adams ordered every city agency to implement a 5% reduction in city funding spending to offset the cost of the migrant crisis, which NYC now estimates at $12B through 2025.
“The Adams administration is actively working to reduce housing and other costs by transitioning migrants out of the shelter system and humanitarian emergency response and relief centers to more cost-effective shelter, in addition to looking closely at other ways to reduce the costs of caring for the asylum seekers,” NYC said, in a statement posted on NYC.gov.
Adams said the budget cuts were due to a lack of support from the federal and state governments in bearing the cost of the migrant crisis.
“While our compassion is limitless, our resources are not. This is a sobering fact, and that’s why decision was not made lightly,” Adams said, in a statement.
“We need Washington and Albany to finally do their part by paying their fair share and coming up with a decompression strategy that reduces the pressure on New York City, so we are not forced to manage this crisis almost entirely on our own,” Adams said.
With regard to the budget cuts, the mayor added: “The die is not yet cast. If we can get the substantial support we need from our federal and state partners, we can avoid these funding reductions.”