The news that Metropolitan Life would like to sell Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village strikes some New Yorkers as the end of an era. The question is: Is the era that is ending one in which middle class people can live in Manhattan?
Both Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are seen as one of the few remaining middle class bastions in a borough filled with the affluent and the poor.
Both places were built for the middle class, mostly returning veterans and their families. In 1950, residents at Stuyvesant Town paid a median rent of only $76, and those at Peter Cooper Village $100. This was a time at which the median income of the residents was $5,866. Thus, the median household paid only about 15 percent of its income for rent. By 2000, the median rent had climbed above $1,000, but since the median household income had shot up to $68,422, the median household still pays only about 18 percent of its income for rent. This is well below the 35 percent that is considered non-affordable, making the two complexes one of the few bargains left in Manhattan.
This is not likely to stay the same. The city is changing â€“ has already changed -- and so are these two housing developments. It seems instructive to compare the demographics of its residents in 1950, shortly after they were built, with who lived there in 2000, the most recent census. (Conveniently Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village span two census tracts).
Married Then, Single Now
In 1950, the two complexes were places for young married couples with kids. In 2000, they had become a home for mostly unmarried singles and many older people.
In 1950, there were 31,173 residents living in 11,630 households in the two complexes. About one-fifth of the residents were five years of age or under. Almost 90 percent of all adult residents were married. Only 1.3 percent of residents were over 65. The make-up was not surprising -- there was a veteran's preference to live in the complexes, and the vets had recently returned home and begun families.
By 2000 the number of people living in the two complexes had declined to 19,101, but the number of households had only dipped slightly to 10,926. Over half the households were occupied by unmarried people without children. Only about four percent were five years old or younger, while almost one-quarter were over 65.
White Then, Mostly White Now (But Also Black, Asian, Hispanic)
When Stuyvesant Town opened in 1947, it excluded non-whites, which is why in 1950, out of more than 30,000 residents, only 114 were black.
By 2000 the complexes were about 8.3 percent black, 4.4 Asian and 5.4 percent Hispanic. About 15 percent were foreign born, the most from Asia, but substantial numbers from both Europe and Latin America.
Clerical and Professional Then, Professional Now
In 1950, of those employed (predominantly men) about one-third were in professional occupations, some 18 percent were managers, but 35 percent were either clerical or sales workers. By 2000 slightly more women than men were employed, but about two-thirds of both sexes were in professional or managerial occupations. So the occupational level of the residents had increased.
What Might Happen
If Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are sold to a entity interested in moving the complexes to non-stabilized private sector rental, the prospects for middle class housing in the complex will be bleak, according to a recent article in the New York Times: "At Peter Cooper Village, where the apartments are more spacious, the average monthly rent for regulated apartments ranges from $1,178 for a one-bedroom unit to $1,581 for three bedrooms, while the average rents for market-rate apartments range from $2,662 to $5,842. At Stuyvesant Town, where hardly any of the standard apartments have more than one bathroom, renters in regulated apartments pay an average of $1,096 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,514 for three. Average rents for deregulated apartments range from $2,406 to $3,833."
At 30 percent of income, to rent such apartment a household would need an income between $96,240 and $233,680. This would make the complex off-limits except to the top fifth of Manhattan residents. Only about 11 percent of current tenants have incomes approaching a level where they could afford the least expensive apartments in Stuyvesant Town.
Moving this huge complex to the free market rent will mean that the composition of the tenants will radically change. Even now, as tenants leave, the new occupants may face rents several times what had been paid. After substantial renovation most any apartment in the complexes could fetch above $2,000 rent and be lost to stabilization. The segment of the middle class that is still in Manhattan: those older and living out their days here, along with singles and others who work in professional and other jobs and a few families with children, will need to look elsewhere for housing.
Andrew A. Beveridge has taught sociology at Queens College since 1981, done demographic analyses for the New York Times since 1993, and been in charge of Gotham Gazette's demographics topic page since 2000. The opinions expressed are his alone.Â