NYC Fights to End Hotel Program for Sandy Evacuees

City officials say it has cost $70 million to house the refugees

About 350 homeless Sandy evacuees who have been sleeping in New York City-funded hotel rooms for nearly a year may be forced to check out for good.

Lawyers for the city argued in Manhattan's state Supreme Court on Tuesday that the program must end after Monday, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency says it will stop reimbursing the city for the program.

The city has spent $70 million to house more than 3,000 refugees since the storm hit last October, officials said. Each room costs about $266 per night.

As Sandy battered the East Coast, its storm surge destroyed homes and cost billions of dollars in damage. Thousands of people were displaced from uninhabitable homes in New York and New Jersey.

Only about 350 evacuees are left in the program, but housing advocates said many of them have no place else to go. The city said those who don't have other housing arrangements can apply to stay in one of the city's homeless shelters.

"The city is not saying to families, 'Here, we have a room for you that will be cheaper for us, we want to move you to this room,'" said Judith Goldiner, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society. "What they're saying is, 'We want to stop paying your hotel room and have you go to our intake center in the south Bronx and wait a very long time, and go through an arduous application process to determine whether we think you're going to be homeless or not.'"

The battle over the program has dragged on for months. In May, the city tried to end it, citing the financial burden, but a judge issued a preliminary injunction that kept it alive. The city is seeking to have that injunction lifted.

"FEMA recently determined that it will not contribute any funding for this aid beyond Sept. 30," the city said in an emailed statement. "As a result, there is no longer any basis for the injunction in place since May, and the city is seeking to lift it, which would bring the city hotel program to a close."

It's unclear when a judge will issue a ruling on the injunction.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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