The New York State Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] on Tuesday that New York City is not contractually obligated to carry on with the current rent subsidy program available for the formerly homeless. The Legal Aid Society [advocacy website] sued the city [Reuters report] on behalf of tenants, after the city terminated the Advantage program, which provided rent subsidies of up to $1,000 per month. In a divided 4-3 decision, the court stated:
The courts are not empowered to second-guess the City by conjuring up a "contract" from bits and pieces of documents meant to explain and condition participation in what was a voluntary government program. Indeed, doing so can only discourage governmental bodies from enacting voluntary programs to help the needy; they will fear being compelled by judges to continue such programs even if sources of funding are reduced or withdrawn. However much our sympathies may lie with plaintiffs, the fact remains that the courts below found, with record support, that the City made no contractual commitment to continue the Advantage program through expiration of plaintiffs' leases.Roughly 15,000 people were affected by the Advantage program's termination.
Providing the homeless with suitable housing options has been a long-standing issue in New York City. In September 2008, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg [official profile] reached [JURIST report] a settlement [press release] in a lawsuit over homeless families' rights to use shelters throughout the city. The lawsuit, McCain v. Koch [NYT report], was initially filed in 1983 by the Legal Aid Society. As that lawsuit progressed through the court system other complaints were filed, prompting the city to declare a right to shelter [Coalition for the Homeless report, PDF] which was enforced through the court system. The new agreement announced was supported by many rights groups, including the Coalition for the Homeless [official website], and allowed for the City to resume complete control in setting its policy for dealing with an estimated 9,000 homeless families, which included 14,000 children.