New York City is a city of renters, and affordable housing is a perennial concern of New Yorkers. Under Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city has committed an unprecedented level of resources to create and preserve affordable housing units and make critical repairs at the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). But is it realistic to think the city can address affordability for all rent-burdened New Yorkers?
A new report from Citizens Budget Commission (CBC) indicates rental burdens have not improved since 2014, and are most severe for low-income single households, particularly single seniors. The most effective programs for providing low-income, affordable housing have been federally funded; the city cannot handle the affordability problem on its own.
CBC analysis of data from the 2017 Housing Vacancy Survey (HVS) shows more than 921,000 renter households in New York City, or 44 percent of all renters, pay at least 30 percent of their income in rent, even after accounting for the value of federal rental housing vouchers and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps). Twenty-two percent of households – more than 462,000 families and single adults – are severely rent burdened, which means they pay 50 percent or more of their income in rent.
Severe rent burdens disproportionately affect single households: 35 percent of single seniors, 27 percent of single households, and 26 percent of single-parent households were low-income and severely burdened. In contrast, about 15 percent of households with multiple adults were low-income and severely burdened.
These findings are largely unchanged from the last time the HVS was conducted in 2014. The share of rent-burdened households increased to 44 percent from 42 percent, while the share of severely burdened remained unchanged. Severe burdens increased slightly among low-income single households and seniors.
The primary challenge in tackling the “affordability gap” is that the lowest income households require subsidies to supplement what they can afford to pay in rent. Historically, federal housing programs have been most effective at addressing these needs. According to the 2017 HVS, two-thirds of the lowest income households that are not rent burdened either reside in federally-subsidized public housing or receive Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. Most of the remaining third benefit from some other form of subsidy from the city, state or federal governments.
While city government has a role to play in addressing rental burdens, it is unrealistic to expect the city to close the gap on its own. The number of extremely and very low income New York City households that pay half their income in rent exceeds the mayor’s entire 300,000-unit housing plan. Meanwhile, NYCHA faces a $32 billion capital need, and its public housing units are in the worst condition of all rental housing in the city. The cost of addressing these challenges vastly exceeds the city’s financial resources. Any meaningful response to preserve public housing and address the housing needs of severely rent burdened New Yorkers will require willing partners in Albany and Washington.
Sean Campion is a senior research associate for Citizens Budget Commission. On Twitter @cbcny.