Housing insecurity, displacement, and homelessness are rampant and rising.The number of homeless people in the NYC shelter system each night has risen to over 60,000, including over 25,000 children, levels higher than any time since the Great Depression. Untold thousands more sleep in public spaces. One- third of NYC renter households have severe rent burden, meaning they pay over 50% of their incomes on rent. Of these households, 359,187 pay over 80%. Eleven percent (or 241,199) NYC renter households live in overcrowded housing. Of these households, 90,009 are severely overcrowded.
What is the City doing about it?
Recent administrations have been known for neglecting and privatizing public housing, and for using private housing development, including market-rate and so-called “affordable housing,” to drive market growth. A shocking percentage of “affordable housing” has been unaffordable to most of the residents of the neighborhoods in which it was developed. The City has also allowed rent regulation, which is aimed at preventing excessive profits for landlords, to expire for more and more households, which in turn severely exacerbates the affordability problem. Meanwhile, the City spends over $1 billion a year providing temporary shelter to homeless people, often at a cost of over $3,500 a month per person.
What is wrong with this approach?
Current housing policies and practices favor profit over people. Public housing has been all but abandoned at the federal level and is struggling in NYC. The tools used to develop “affordable” private housing are weak and misguided; weak, because they are primarily in the form of incentives for private developers and because they expire after a few years; and misguided because they majorly miss the mark. For example, the City’s standard for “affordability, “Area Median Income (AMI), makes no sense for low income neighborhoods and households. The AMI for the New York City area includes the whole of New York City, Nassau-Suffolk County, and Rockland County. Income disparities across this area is extreme, and so the AMI for NYC is $85,900 for a family of four. In other words, government subsidized housing in NYC is for households that make between between $34,360 and $150,325, which excludes and displaces the many households that make less. Further, the planning processes behind this approach are fragmented and undemocratic, out of touch with neighborhood realities and out of reach from most of us.
Reversing these trends is critical to fostering healthy and sustainable neighborhoods, and to addressing widening social and economic inequality.