Trouble In Paradise: How Far Does NY Commitment To Shelter Actually Stretch

head and shoulders of statue of Liberty, which is backlit by a solar eclipse.
The Statue of Liberty, which welcomed newcomers for hundreds of years, is about to be eclipsed.

All right, we are exaggerating slightly, calling New York ‘paradise.’ But when it comes to that state’s legal commitment to a human right to adequate shelter, there are some reasons to be hyperbolic in praise.

The difficulty, however, lies in two areas. First, which New York are we talking about? Would that be New York State, or New York City?

The second issue: playing fast and loose with the United Nations commitment to a human right to adequate housing, can we interpret shelter (dry, warm, modestly comfortable, such as a homeless shelter dormitory) as adequate housing?

As to the first question, there is no doubt of the political jurisdiction that first committed to the idea that everyone in New York has a right to shelter. That would be the State of New York. Its legislature deserves a tip of the hat at its foresight. But now here comes a thorny question and the subject of the current disagreement between governments. To which ‘New York’ does the legal principle of a right to shelter actually apply: to New York City, or to New York State?

The Mayor of New York flirts with breaching this trust as it applies to the City. He claims to have no alternative, in spite of his duty to provide shelter. He says the City is effectively full up, at least unless the city receives further financial assistance from either the state or the nation. His solution? To export unhoused people to other cities in the state, which he claims are charged with the same burden as New York City.

“Oh, no they’re not!” claims New York State, which is suddenly facing a financial burden it would rather deny.

This is shaping up to be intergovernmental squabbling on a grand scale. It is a problem that will arise everywhere around the world, when senior governments abrogate their responsibility, dumping it on lesser governments that do not have the resources, or suitable taxation powers to raise necessary funding.

Fought within countries, national affordability crises are battles that nevertheless require a wartime commitment. Wars, however, cannot be efficiently fought between the lowest levels of government. Look not to either New York City, nor New York State for a failure of will, closely tied to a failure of means. Why not look to the national government for the leadership necessary to win this battle?

Read more on New York vs. New York battlefield impotence at Tish James signals ideological split from Hochul with unusual recusal