Jan 31, 2024

Armories, Hotels, Offices: Where New York Could House Migrants



There are no easy answers for officials trying to find shelter beds, but “everything is on the table,” a deputy mayor said.

By James Barron

Good morning. It’s Thursday. We’ll see whether there’s really no space available for migrants as New York City’s shelter crisis continues. We’ll also look at Rudolph Giuliani, former prosecutor, former mayor and now Co-Conspirator 1.

“There is no more room,” Mayor Eric Adams declared this week as City Hall struggled to find space for thousands of migrants from the southern border — nearly 100,000 in the last year. Just last week, some 2,300 new migrants arrived.

Is the city really full? If not, where could asylum seekers go?

The answers from a handful of people with different perspectives — advocates for homeless people, hotel experts and a real estate appraiser — added up to this: There are no easy answers.

“It’s not that there’s no spaces, it’s that the spaces we have are encumbered by bureaucratic barriers that make it time-consuming and difficult to get people into them,” said Catherine Trapani, the executive director of Homeless Services United, a coalition of nonprofit agencies that serve homeless and at-risk adults.

Joshua Goldfein, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, said “there’s full and there’s full” as he suggested that there were places where the city could set up cots, as it does in weather emergencies: drill floors in armories, cafeterias in shelters, school gyms.

But these are “places they couldn’t use on an ongoing basis,” Goldfein said before suggesting opening empty storefronts to house people. “If you just brought people inside, gave them a place that is not exposed to the weather,” he said, “that would be better.”

New York has opened 194 sites to house newcomers, including hotel ballrooms, former jails and an airport warehouse. The plan is to open a tent city in the parking lot of a psychiatric center in Queens soon, and Anne Williams-Isom, the deputy mayor for health and human services, said on Wednesday that “everything is on the table” in the hunt for more space.

The city has a legal requirement to provide shelter for anyone who wants it, and the city had been looking for space long before Mayor Adams put out what amounted to a “no vacancy” sign last month, when he discouraged asylum seekers from heading to New York. The Times reported in May that city officials had approached large-scale landlords and even the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey about finding spaces that could house migrants.

City Hall also looked at its own holdings: The mayor’s chief of staff told agency heads by email to list “any properties or spaces in your portfolio that may be available to be repurposed to house asylum seekers as temporary shelter spaces.”

On Wednesday, Williams-Isom appeared to play down the idea of setting up tents in Central Park, saying that plan had been leaked months ago and that there were “all kinds of sites that we have to look at, similar to when we went through the Covid emergency.” She said the city had “reviewed” more than 3,000 sites.

When she was asked if the city was looking to house migrants at the Javits Center, she said she would not answer “hypothetical questions.”

What about hotels beyond those that already house homeless people?

Vijay Dandapani — the president and chief executive of the Hotel Association of New York City, a trade group — said that “there is potentially space,” but the calendar works against filling it with migrants. September is usually a busy month for hotels in New York, what with the United Nations General Assembly and the U.S. Open, 13 days of tennis ending on Sept. 10. “Then, from September all the way to the middle of December, the city is busy,” Dandapani said. “Assuming the crisis is still as extensive as it is today, it would be January before somebody decides to put their toes in this water.”

Sean Hennessey, a hotel consultant and an associate professor at New York University, said some hotels might switch to housing asylum seekers because doing so can be “relatively favorable” for hotels. They do not have to staff ancillary services like meeting rooms that “are usually a break-even proposition or worse,” he said.

He said the city might also be able to work out deals with hotels now under construction, an option that could make hundreds if not thousands of rooms available — but probably not immediately.

Office conversions are also a long shot, said the appraiser Jonathan Miller, even though thousands of square feet of office space are vacant. The cost of remodeling made converting “a nonstarter for most developers.” Higher interest rates have only made the expense even “more problematic.”

“In the short term, this seems impossible,” he said. But as leases signed before the pandemic come up for renewal and tenants assess their space needs in a world with continuing remote work, “I think there’s going to be a lot of distressed commercial office space.” The eventual result: Corner offices could become living rooms and break rooms could become kitchens.


Enjoy a mostly sunny day near the low 80s. Expect a chance of showers and thunderstorm in the evening, with temps around 70.


In effect until Aug. 15 (Feast of the Assumption).

Reading crisis in schools: Across the nation, state leaders are taking steps to improve reading instruction for struggling students. But in New York, concern has grown: Is too little being done?

Fatal fire: A discarded cigarette may have ignited an accidental fire that killed four people, including a 4-month-old, at a New Jersey home, according to the Ocean County prosecutor’s office.

Accused bishop marries: A retired Roman Catholic bishop in upstate New York who is a defendant in several sexual misconduct lawsuits said that he had recently married a woman after the Vatican denied his request to leave the clergy.

The union leader from Flushing: Fran Drescher, president of the union representing more than 150,000 television and movie actors, addressed the actors’ strike in remarks to the New York City Council.

Frontline workers’ commutes: If you have never had the option to work from home because your job must be done in person, tell us how your commute has shifted over the past three years.

Love letter to hip-hop: Rap music, at its core, has been a 50-year love affair with the English language. To celebrate hip-hop’s birthday, we asked Mahogany L. Browne, Lincoln Center’s first poet-in-residence and an acclaimed author, to write a love letter to the genre.

Rudolph Giuliani’s name is nowhere in the indictment accusing former President Donald Trump of plotting to overturn the 2020 election. But Giuliani — a former federal prosecutor, former Justice Department official, former mayor and former lawyer for Trump — appeared to be the person referred to in the indictment as Co-Conspirator 1. Giuliani’s own lawyer acknowledged it.

Giuliani figures in the three conspiracies the indictment says took place, leaving open the possibility that he could be charged later. So, as my colleague Jonah E. Bromwich writes, Giuliani, who made his name as a lawman, now faces a reckoning with the law.

Giuliani’s relationship with Trump hangs in the balance. A person close to Trump who spoke confidentially to describe a private relationship said that they don’t speak regularly, but the former president retains a fondness that goes back to Giuliani’s time in City Hall, when they dealt with each other often.

Their relationship has appeared strained in the last couple of years. Trump told advisers in 2021 that he did not want Giuliani paid for his efforts on Trump’s behalf after the 2020 election. This year, filings suggest, Trump’s super PAC paid $340,000 to a legal vendor working on Giuliani’s behalf. The $340,000 payment was made weeks before Giuliani met voluntarily with lawyers from the office of Jack Smith, the special counsel overseeing the investigations of Trump.


Dear Diary:

Life is slow these days. I check my lobby for packages scheduled to arrive, even though UPS sends me alerts and delivers to my door.

Today, hearing a distant buzzer, I went down just in case. No package, but a woman carrying groceries was waiting outside. The latch stuck as I opened the door.

“Buzzer not working?” she asked.

“It worked earlier today,” I said.

We stepped over to the elevator. Inside was my next-door neighbor, an older woman named Oneida. She had come down to meet her helper. She lit up when she saw us.

She sometimes pops into the hall in her robe and slippers if I’m singing outside my door. She blows me kisses, and I usually get a hug.

Minutes later, I was back upstairs when my doorbell rang. I sprang up to get my package. At the door was Oneida, smiling and holding an origami box I had made for her.

I motioned for her to lift the lid. Then I blew a kiss into the box with both hands and motioned for her to close it. She hugged me as we parted.

— Paul Klenk

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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James Barron is a Metro reporter and columnist who writes the New York Today newsletter. In 2020 and 2021, he wrote the Coronavirus Update column, part of coverage that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service. He is the author of two books and was the editor of “The New York Times Book of New York.” More about James Barron


Reading crisis in schoolsFatal fireAccused bishop marriesThe union leader from FlushingFrontline workers’ commutesLove letter to hip-hopGlad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.