Skip to main content

Adams’ Smart Migrant Move Could Help the City’s Overburdened Shelters—and Migrants Themselves

New York Post

July 19, 2023

A hint of common sense has emerged in the Adams’ administration policy toward the wave of migrants crowding the hotels once occupied by the tourists the city’s economy needs.

But the mayor’s just-announced 60-day limit for single adults in the city’s shelter system raises the obvious question: Where should they go next? 

There’s a short answer the city’s legion of case workers should provide: cities where housing vacancies are high and the unemployment rate is low.

If the Big Apple needs to copy Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and provide the bus ticket, we’d be doing all involved—cities and migrants—a favor.

It’s no secret New York faces a perennial housing vacancy shortage—mainly because of our own ill-considered policies (see stabilization, rent).

But that’s not true in, for instance, Albany, where, per the Census Bureau, 9.5% of rental units are vacant.

That’s low compared with metro Baltimore (12.5%), Birmingham (11.9%), Little Rock (11.2%) and metro Charleston (15.3%).

What’s more, all these cities have unemployment rates of 3.5% or less; Little Rock’s is just 2.3%.

High housing-vacancy rates should and do mean low rent costs.

In Albany, according to postings, one can find a three-bedroom apartment for $1,100, in Birmingham for $923 and in Detroit for $918.

All are a far cry from the $3,500 being asked for just a studio in Manhattan.

Gotham’s combination of sanctuary-city and right-to-shelter laws have made it a powerful magnet for migrants.

But cities such as Detroit—where an incredible one of every five homes stands vacant—are in desperate need of newcomers, to repair and revive the city.

Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had it right in 2011 when he said immigration is “the only solution for these big, hollowed-out cities where industry has left and is never going to come back unless you get some people to move there.”

Bloomberg went so far as to suggest a federalist approach to immigration policy—let cities in need of labor set their own rules.

That likely wouldn’t pass constitutional muster, but some changes in the status of the migrants crowding the fabled Roosevelt Hotel and outer-borough motels would have to be worked out. 

No city would benefit from their arrival if they’re not permitted to work—on the books, contributing to Social Security and other struggling programs.

This need not mean granting amnesty for their illegal border-crossing, nor a glide path to citizenship.

Historically, agriculture depended on short-term “bracero” workers, many of whom would return to their countries of origin once the fruit was picked.

The same approach may not work with migrants in big cities—but work visas and “guest worker” status are better than crowding New York’s shelter system.

We don’t need the elusive comprehensive immigration reform to take such a step in the face of a crisis that demands action.

The potential for migrants to be welcomed and contribute even to unlikely locales has, ironically, been well-demonstrated by what as branded a stunt by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: flying border-crossers to tony Martha’s Vineyard.

Although many sent to the island moved on, some decided to stay; The New York Times reports a Venezuelan family found jobs in landscaping, painting and roofing and now rent their own home, four in a two-bedroom house, with bicycles as transportation.

Sharing bedrooms is a time-honored way for immigrants to make ends meet—and an obvious approach to housing affordability.

The advent of e-bikes makes more-distant jobs accessible.

What’s more, some of the Martha’s Vineyard migrants found homes elsewhere in other Massachusetts cities such as Lowell and Brockton, which have struggled since losing key industries.

Others headed to Provincetown, the tourist mecca where job openings for restaurant workers and retail employees are advertised right now.

It’s no secret Help Wanted signs are out all over America—nor that in the long run the nation needs more workers to support our entitlement programs for retired boomers.

The chaos on the southern border is no way to approach such problems—but nor can we act as if those crowding New York are going to self-deport.

We can make short-term accommodation while, one hopes, we take long-term steps to secure the border and give priority to those crossing legally.

It’s to his credit that Mayor Eric Adams has realized sheltering migrants without time limit is not an economically sustainable policy for a city facing a budget cliff.

But the time limit should be seen not as a sanction but as a key to opportunity—just somewhere else.