City Council to Sue Bloomberg Administration Over Homeless Policy

By Jill Colvin on November 28, 2011 4:32pm | Updated on November 28, 2011 5:55pm

A homeless man walks down the street on June 20, 2011 in New York City.
A homeless man walks down the street on June 20, 2011 in New York City.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

MANHATTAN — The City Council plans to sue the Bloomberg administration to prevent the implementation of a controversial new homeless policy that would force men and women seeking shelter to prove they have nowhere else to go — marking the council's first independent suit against the mayor under Speaker Christine Quinn's reign.

The council is expected to pass a resolution Tuesday authorizing Quinn's staff to file suit against the Department of Homeless Services to stop the new policy on the grounds that the administration violated city rules by failing to notify the public and the council, Quinn said.

The resolution is being introduced personally by Quinn, who is generally thought to be a close ally of the mayor, putting her on a crash course with the administration and marking a bold sidestep as she prepares for her own presumptive run for mayor in 2013.

"The Bloomberg administration has flouted the rules and regulations as it related to public notification,” Quinn told reporters Monday.

“If we can’t trust and rely on the mayor’s office’s fair and transparent implementation of the rule-making process, we have an enormous problem as it relates to drafting legislation,” she said.

The new policy, announced by the Department of Homeless Services earlier this month, would force individuals who want to sleep in city shelters to undergo rigorous interviews, during which staffers would review applicants' housing histories to determine whether the shelter system is really their last resort.

Critics, including Quinn, have blasted the policy as "cruel and punitive," warning that it would drive the city’s most vulnerable onto the streets just as the winter hits.

"I think the process of making people, when they are at the end of their rope, when they’re coming to place that’s hard to go to to ask for help, to basically do everything in our effort to send them away, is a bad policy," said Quinn, who said the suit comes after all other traditional channels of negotiation between the Bloomberg administration and council broke down.

City Council members rallied against a new policy that will force those seeking space in homeless shelters to prove they have nowhere else to go.
City Council members rallied against a new policy that will force those seeking space in homeless shelters to prove they have nowhere else to go.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

But observers also noted the dispute was a ripe opportunity for the speaker to assert her independence from the mayor, whose popularity has slumped in his third term.

"Timing is everything in politics," said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. "It’s absolutely expected that she would take a step to distance herself from the mayor.”

He said the subject presents an especially good opportunity for Quinn, who began her career as a housing advocate and has been accused by some of having moved too far from the left and becoming too cozy with the mayor.

"She's protecting what she thinks are bases while at he same time showing independence from the mayor. So it’s a two-fer," he said.

Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Seth Diamond defended the policy as well as the way the agency went about implementing it.

"I think this is a very strong policy that will preserve shelters for people who need it most," Diamond told DNAinfo, adding that the department informed the Legal Aid Society as well as the council before the change was set to began.

"We gave time for a full review," he said.

The suit is expected to be handled by council lawyers, and Quinn said she expects her office to file the paperwork in early to mid-December.

The suit would mark the second legal challenge to the new homeless intake policy, which was expected to go into effect on Nov. 14. It was halted says before when the Legal Aid Society filed another suit in Manhattan Supreme Court seeking to halt its implementation.

The council's lawsuit will be separate from the Legal Aid Society's, but Quinn said the council also intends to file an amicus brief in support of the other case.

The last time the council sued the Bloomberg administration was back in 2006, under ex-City Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

A spokeswoman for the mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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