Posted on March 3, 2024

Why a $25 Million Plan to Relocate N.Y.C. Migrant Families Is Struggling

Dana Rubinstein et al., New York Times, February 25, 2024

The state’s Migrant Relocation Assistance Program has failed to live up to expectations, moving only 174 households into permanent homes outside New York City since it began last July.

“Man, do I wish that program was working better,” Jackie Bray, the state emergency services commissioner, said in November. “That program is not at this point succeeding. And that’s a huge disappointment to us.”

By contrast, the State of Illinois, which launched a comparable program in December 2022, says it has moved 4,697 households into apartments — 27 times as many as New York.

New York’s program has had its share of obstacles. It has placed migrant families in only five counties because of widespread resistance in much of the state. Some county executives have issued executive orders to try to keep migrants out.

On Monday, after this article was published, Ed Romaine, the Suffolk County executive, said in a statement that moving Ms. Espine’s family to Central Islip in Suffolk may have violated an executive order that he issued earlier this month.

Mr. Romaine, a Republican who took office in January, said, “Suffolk County is not, nor will it be, a sanctuary county.” He said that his administration was not notified of the county’s participation in the migrant relocation program before he took office and that his staff was “reviewing this situation.”

The New York program differs in many ways from the one in Illinois: New York limits participation to families with children who have filed for asylum and are on track for work authorization. It aims to move migrants outside New York City, whereas the Illinois program — which has since been curtailed — lets migrants resettle in Chicago. It remains unclear what will happen once that program’s shorter-term subsidy expires.

New York’s program was intended to chip away at the migrant shelter population that stands at about 65,000 people, including 15,000 families, as the crisis approaches its two-year anniversary. The influx is a product of increased border crossings, paralysis in Washington and New York’s unique rule requiring it to offer a bed to every homeless person.

But because of local opposition to the program, the state is resettling migrants in only five of its 62 counties: Albany, Erie, Monroe, Suffolk and Westchester. New York City officials have urged Gov. Kathy Hochul to override the local executive orders, but she has resisted.

Other contributing factors are also keeping the program from shifting into high gear, according to state and city officials and the local nonprofits that try to match migrants with apartments.

Many migrants do not want to leave the city. Across the state, there is a shortage of affordable housing. And for the program to work, rents must be low enough that when the state stops paying, the family can shoulder the burden.


The state says it has tried to make the program more appealing to both migrants and landlords, who might reasonably worry about whether tenants will be able to pay rent once the subsidy ends. New York is offering landlords bonuses of up to $15,000. And it has made marketing videos selling distant counties to migrants.

Two of the counties used in the program, Suffolk and Westchester, have some of the state’s most expensive real estate. Because they’re near the city, they are also among the counties migrants prefer.

Many migrants don’t want to leave the city because of under-the-table jobs they can commute to without cars, or because their children have started school there. Of 1,800 families the city has found eligible for the program, only about 700 said they would relocate, state officials said.

In Suffolk County the typical rent is $2,100 for a one-bedroom apartment and $2,500 for one with two bedrooms.


New York City is paying an average of nearly $400 per night to shelter each migrant household. So keeping 1,250 families in shelters for a year costs at least $180 million.

The $25 million budget for the resettlement program works out to about $55 per night for each family.

The program works like this: The city shelter system looks for qualified families who are willing to move. It then notifies the state, which has hired local nonprofits to find landlords willing to rent to the family. If a match is made, the family moves in.