Judge stops NYC’s plans to move unhoused New Yorkers from hotels

The Lucerne hotel on the Upper West Side.

The Lucerne hotel on the Upper West Side. Steve Sanchez Photos / Shutterstock

Homeless people still living in hotels will be allowed to stay for at least a little bit longer thanks to a ruling by a federal judge that blocked New York City’s plan to move them into group shelters on Tuesday, pausing the move for at least one week.

The ruling declares that the city cannot move anyone with a disability until they individually evaluate the case to see whether that person qualifies for reasonable accommodations. 

Last year, residents at congregate homeless shelters were temporarily moved to hotels in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Residents in several upper- and middle-class neighborhoods where these hotels were located pushed back against having temporary shelters near their homes, arguing that their presence created quality of life issues citing concerns about drug use. One high-profile example of this backlash occurred on the Upper West Side, where many locals banded in Facebook groups against the temporary shelter at the The Lucerne Hotel and eventually sued the city. The legal battle went back and forth until last month, when the last of the men staying there were moved back to shelters. The controversy has highlighted ongoing challenges homeless New Yorkers faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, with advocates calling for hotel room access as a vital step to keeping people safe. 

The court decision on Tuesday provides a victory for homeless New Yorkers affected by the transfer and their advocates. The Legal Aid Society, the group that filed the lawsuit, made its case by building on a 2017 decision that required the city to grant reasonable accommodations to homeless people with disabilities. The lawsuit accused the city Department of Homeless Services of endangering individuals with health conditions because it is unknown how many homeless people in the shelter system remain unvaccinated. Some officials estimated that the number of vaccinated shelter residents was below 30%, according to reporting from City Limits, compared with the citywide number of approximately 69% of adults who have received at least one dose. The agency will now have to wait to move 5,000 people, with 3,000 individuals already moved out of hotels and into shelters.