NYC’s housing crisis accelerating as low-rent apartment stock declines: report

Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious Housing New York initiative to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026, New York City remains in the midst of an affordability crisis. Though the city has been able to create more affordable housing units, questions on whether New York City is actually becoming more affordable—and a new report from Comptroller Scott Stringer suggests it is not.

The report is an update to Stringer’s 2014 publication, The Growing Gap: New York City’s Housing Affordability Challenge. In the initial report, census bureau data revealed that more than 400,000 apartments with rents of less than $1,000/month disappeared from the city’s inventory between 2000 and 2012 as median rents increased by 75 percent. In the updated analysis, Stringer’s office found that the housing affordability gap has not improved, and has actually accelerated since 2014.

“Between 2005 and 2017, rising rents led to the disappearance of 425,492 apartments renting for $900 or less (in 2017 dollars) from the City’s housing inventory,” per the report. “The largest share of these units—40 percent, or 428,000 apartments—saw their rents increase to between $1,051 and $1,500.” Meanwhile, apartments with rents more than $2,700/month increased by roughly 238,000 units.

There are several factors that have contributed to the city’s rising cost of housing. For one, the city’s housing supply has not been able to keep up with population growth. “Between 2005 and 2016, the City added an estimated 576,000 residents—but a mere 76,211 net new units of occupied rental housing.” This played a role in rising housing costs in all five boroughs, though Manhattan was the only borough to have a loss of low-cost rental apartments that exceeded its gain of higher-cost rental units.

Another contributing factor in the shift to more middle- and high-priced rentals was “a continued erosion in the inventory of rent-regulated housing.”

“[T]he City lost 88,518 units of rent-regulated housing between 2005 and 2017—more than the entire addition to the stock of occupied rental housing,” the report reads. “More regulated units were removed from the inventory than were added in every year except 2017, when a large number of rental units were stabilized after the renewal of the 421-a program.”

In fact, high-rent vacancy deregulation—in which a rent-stabilized apartment can be become un-stabilized when a tent decides not to renew their lease, and if said unit has a maximum legal rent that exceeds the threshold set by the state—was found to be the biggest contributor to the loss of rent-stabilized housing between 2005 and 2017.

Jane Meyers, a spokesperson for the De Blasio administration, sent the following statement to Curbed regarding Stringer’s report:

New York City is tackling the affordability crisis head on. We are using every tool available to build new affordable apartments, preserve the ones we have, and stop bad landlords in their tracks. Since 2014, we have financed 109,767 affordable homes, 40 percent of which are affordable to families making less than $47,000 a year. The key is strengthening state rent laws and we will work aggressively with partners in Albany next session to enact stronger rent laws and eliminate the vacancy bonus.

A recent study released by the housing watchdog group, the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) revealed that many landlords across the city have reportedly lied about construction taking place in rent-regulated apartments in their buildings, yet still received approval from the city’s Department of Buildings. As a result, City Council member Ritchie Torres introduced legislation that calls for the DOB and the Department of Finance to work together to identify false statements by landlords that might be unlawful. If a landlord is found to have falsified information about any of their properties, the bill asks that the DOB examine the landlord’s entire portfolio for false statements.

Correction: City Comptroller Scott Stringer reported that a revision has been made to the report after a miscalculation was discovered. The article has been updated to report that 425,492 apartments have low-rent units have been lost between 2005-2017, not 1.069 million.

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