The legal petition submitted to the Manhattan Federal Court on Thursday accuses the city of a unitary strategy that violates the rights of residents of homes for the disabled to accessible apartments.
A rally across from Gracie Mansion in June protesting the city’s decision to move homeless adults out of hotels and back to communal accommodation.
A group of homeless New Yorkers with disabilities is taking legal action to halt the city’s plan to move them from COVID-safe hotel rooms back to group accommodations, accusing the city of a unified strategy that violates their right to access homes.
A handful of home residents and three advocacy groups, including the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project and the Coalition for the Homeless, filed a motion in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday as part of an ongoing class action lawsuit compelling the city to cater to the needs of the disabled to be home to residents.
In court files, the plaintiffs accuse city officials of “following political pressure to discontinue the hotel program and move around 8,000 residents in a few weeks”.
“The results were not only messy, but also potentially dangerous for class members,” they add. “Residents of homes with significant, obvious disabilities have been moved or threatened with moving to places inaccessible to them.”
The challenge comes three weeks after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city would evict around 8,000 homeless New Yorkers from hotel rooms by the end of July. The city began renting the rooms in April 2020 to help protect homeless people from the coronavirus, but de Blasio says the special accommodations are no longer needed with nearly 70 percent of New Yorkers vaccinated against COVID-19 and the number the number of new cases continues to decline.
However, plaintiffs, represented by the Legal Aid Society and the law firm Jenner & Block LLP, say the city’s homeless office failed to provide proper notice or to consider appropriate accommodation for people with disabilities and serious health problems as required by law.
“The city’s rash decision to arbitrarily move thousands of homeless New Yorkers from safe shelters back to local, overcrowded shelters is both illegal and inhumane,” legal aid attorney Josh Goldfein said in a statement.
Between June 22 and June 24, DHS and animal shelter contractors moved about 650 homeless New Yorkers from hotels to shared accommodation, often in violation of disability rights, the lawsuit said. Transfers continued, with more than 1,000 people moving out of Manhattan hotels in the first week of July.
Under a 2017 agreement reached in the Butler v. New York City litigation, DHS officials pledged to conduct an individualized assessment of the needs of every homeless New Yorker. Under state law, DHS and shelter officials must provide written notice at least 48 hours prior to each move. The regulations also allow individuals to apply for so-called “adequate housing” in order to receive accommodation appropriate to their health and mobility needs. A shelter manager must make a decision on the application before moving.
As attorneys have documented, many home residents have been abruptly transferred without adequate notice or with pending requests for appropriate housing.
“These transfers have completely ignored this process and we are asking the court to prohibit the city from making such transfers until each homeless person has been screened and tailored accommodation has been provided,” said Goldfein.
City officials have informed the shelter’s residents that they are not considering adequate accommodation for mental health issues, the motion said. The documents cite the experiences of various New Yorkers who, despite their severe disabilities and in violation of the Butler Agreement and state laws, have moved out of shelters in recent weeks.
A plaintiff, referred to as SH on court records, has an autoimmune disease, fibromyalgia, brainstem encephalomyelitis and chronic musculoskeletal pain, and needs a single room or elevator access. SH was relocated from a hotel and moved to multiple accommodations on July 7, before being requested to be given a room in another hotel.
Another plaintiff, known as PM, uses a wheelchair and is seeking knee replacement surgery, but was moved to communal accommodation with no accessible toilets on June 22nd. A third, identified as HZ, uses a wheelchair and was moved from a hotel to an accommodation congregate on a steep hill.
Over the past few weeks, de Blasio has said that the use of commercial hotels as accommodation should always be temporary and that the use of the rooms for homeless New Yorkers makes it difficult for the city to recover from tourism.
The DHS has highlighted intensive efforts to provide New Yorkers living in shelters with COVID testing and access to vaccines, as well as their work in helping thousands of families and individuals find permanent shelter and evacuate shelters. Nearly 19,000 shelters secured permanent housing in 2020, including 11,134 who took advantage of city rent support programs, the agency said.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of the New Yorkers we serve when they get back on their feet is our top priority – that’s why we’re continuing our comprehensive COVID-19 testing and vaccination programs and making it as easy as possible possible for our customers to get tested and vaccinated by delivering these free, vital resources directly to customers where they are, “DHS spokesman Isaac McGinn said in a statement.
“While we are phasing out the temporary use of commercial hotels during the COVID era, we and our nonprofit partners are also working closely with customers to assess each individual’s individual needs and process their requests for reasonable accommodation (RA) approved in court, with hundreds of accommodations granted as we work to meet those needs, ”added McGinn.
The Federal Emergency Administration has been reimbursing the city for the considerable costs of hotel rooms since April 2020. However, FEMA told City Limits that they have decided to stop paying for the rooms as soon as Governor Andrew Cuomo repeals a statewide emergency ordinance and de Blasio said the city will be “fully reopened” by July 1.
The decision to use the hotel rooms was praised by homeless New Yorkers and their advocates, who said the single and double occupancy rooms protect those at risk from the deadly disease while allowing them to stabilize their health and diverse needs.
They say they fear a resurgence of COVID-19 as the majority of home residents have not yet been vaccinated.
“We routinely speak to people who are frightened and in mental crisis from this ubiquitous chaotic process,” said Helen Strom, supervisor of the Homeless Advocacy Unit at the Safety Net Project. “Some people are returning to the streets. There are alternatives. “
Strom, whose organization has visited hotels across the city to prevent illegal transfers, urged the city to stop all removals unless it is permanent, affordable housing.
“These hotel evictions are cruel, dangerous, illegal and racist. It is predominantly black and brown New Yorkers who are randomly kicked out of hotels usually located in white neighborhoods and tourist hubs and sent to unsafe accommodations with more than a dozen people in one room, “she said.