By Holly Crocco
The Putnam County Legislature is poised to approve a local law that would deny the unauthorized operation of homeless shelters, in response to New York City sending asylum seekers to hotels, motels and other facilities in upstate counties.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams and NYC Corporation Counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix on June 7 announced that the City of New York is filing suit against more than 30 New York localities – including Putnam County – that issued emergency executive orders intended to prohibit NYC from arranging for asylum seekers to stay in private hotels within their jurisdictions at the city’s expense.
“In order to better protect Putnam County, its residents and the resources they all rely on from improper use of permitted temporary residencies by outside municipalities or their agents, the action we’re proposing would help address that issue while reducing the need to continuously extend executive orders that correspond with the Putnam County state of emergency that was first declared Monday, May 22,” said Byrne at the county’s June 21 Rules Committee meeting.
The committee unanimously moved a resolution approving the local law to the full Legislature, which will vote on the matter at its July meeting.
Byrne said the executive orders, as well as the proposed local law, are in response to NYC’s “misuse” of temporary residencies and its lack of communication with municipalities that are being burdened with having asylum seekers transported there. Essentially, it seeks a shared-services agreement between any municipality and Putnam County when seeking this action, migrant or not
“We have taken repeated steps to try to communicate with the City of New York,” said Byrne. “They can’t just shirk it onto someone else. They can’t just offload that onto Putnam County.”
Legislator Greg Ellner, R-Mahopac, said that since accommodations cost more in New York City, this is a cost-saving measure for the city. However, it’s a burden here in Putnam, where accommodations are scarce.
“We just have to face the facts that we have a very limited number of accommodations,” he said. “We have all survived weather events that have knocked out power… It obviously allows for a shorter restoration period when (service crews) are staying here in Putnam County. With our limited number of accommodations tied up for five years, that’s going to delay all that. So that’s another reason why I support this.”
Legislator Erin Crowley, R-Carmel, said the Women’s Resource Center and the veterans’ home often cannot find accommodations for people needing shelter.
“We don’t have room in our motels for the people in our own county with their own needs,” she said. “If they don’t come with a car, we don’t have the sidewalks, the infrastructure, all the other things that the asylum seekers would need to be successful.”
Legislator Ginny Nacerino, R-Patterson, also voiced support for the local law.
“I take issue with any municipality, regardless of the situation, that blindsides other municipalities and just blatantly stampedes that county with what they want to do, without any communication, without any dialogue, and without any shared services agreement,” she said. “It’s just ludicrous and that should not be tolerated.”
Legislator Nancy Montgomery of Philipstown, the only Democrat on the board, asked why the county would speculate that New York City would send people to Putnam when it doesn’t have the capacity.
“I can’t imagine that New York City is going to bring people here, knowing our hotels are booked or that we don’t have any,” she said. “I really like to save emergency declarations for real emergencies, so being that there’s no request from New York City to house people here, there’s no emergency.”
Therefore, Montgomery said it’s a waste of time and money to fight the lawsuit brought against the county for issuing the executive orders and state of emergency.
“This is a very expensive proposition, so in my mind this doesn’t really protect the resources that Putnam County residents rely on,” she said. “It does, on a number of levels, violate our rights by wasting our resources with the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will cost us in litigation.”
Montgomery further said that, while Mayor Adams should be communicating better with the counties, it doesn’t change the fact that the people needing housing are not illegal. “These people are here legally – they’re seeking asylum,” she said. “I’m a big fan of my constitutional rights. I’m a big fan of the 14th Amendment.”
A rowdy crowd who disagreed with her had to be quieted before discussion could continue.
“As a taxpayer in Putnam County, I find it offensive that Legislator Montgomery would be OK with spending millions of dollars in our resources – in taxpayer resources – to allow a migrant crisis like this to affect Putnam County, than to spend a few thousand dollars on a legal defense,” said Legislator Paul Jonke, R-Southeast.
Marsha Waldman of Mahopac echoed Montgomery’s sentiments, saying “the people who are asylum seekers are here legally… they are seeking shelter in our country, and they are doing it through legal channels.”
However, Cindy Trimble of Cold Spring said many transients who come through Putnam – for any reason – bring with them increased garbage, as well as fighting, overdoses and other situations that affect quality of life.
“I am living right next to the only two hotels in Cold Spring,” she said. “Every week of my life I watch the first responders who show up at those hotels… There’s activity every week.”