City’s Immigrants Face Varied Housing Problems

Millions of immigrants have poured into New York in the last generation—and they pay more of their income in rent and are twice as likely to live in overcrowded housing as U.S.-born residents, according to a report released March 30 by the Community Service Society.

“Immigrants as a whole experience worse housing conditions than other New Yorkers,” says the report, “Housing the City of Immigrants.” But it cautions that “such generalizations give a misleading picture, because the housing experiences of different immigrant groups vary so widely.” The report used data from the 2008 Housing and Vacancy Survey.

Immigrants now head 44 percent of the households in the city, and more than half of those in northern Queens, southern Brooklyn, Inwood/Washington Heights, and the West Bronx. In the Long Island City-Corona belt of Queens, 70 percent of households are headed by immigrants.

Yet their housing conditions differ by income and ethnicity. Dominicans and immigrants from the former Soviet Union are concentrated in neighborhoods with rents below $950 a month, as are “third-generation” (children of native-born parents) blacks and Latinos (mostly Puerto Ricans). These immigrant groups, along with Mexicans, are also the poorest, with more than half making less than twice the federal poverty level.

Immigrants from Central and South America and Caribbeans from “the islands”—Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and smaller countries—are more likely to live in “middle rent” neighborhoods like Jackson Heights and Flatbush, paying $950 to $1,300. Chinese, Taiwanese, and Korean immigrants have a high poverty rate, but many are also well off; about 40 percent own their homes.

Rent regulation is “extremely important” for immigrants, the report says: 37 percent of all immigrants and 46 percent of low-income immigrants live in rent-regulated apartments. The rates are highest for Dominicans, Mexicans, and Africans. Rent regulation especially matters for immigrants, it notes, because they rarely live in public or subsidized housing; less than 15 percent of low-income immigrants do, and only 7 percent of all immigrants do. More than 40 percent of Mexican immigrants live in unregulated housing.

These factors mean different immigrant groups experience different “housing stresses”—a high “rent burden,” overcrowding, or living in badly maintained dwellings. Among the poorest immigrant groups, Mexicans, Dominicans, and former Soviets, one-third spend more than half their income on rent. Mexicans are the most likely to live in overcrowded housing, defined as more than one person per room: 43 percent do, as do 29 percent of immigrants from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Dominicans, black Caribbeans, and Africans are the immigrant groups most likely to live in badly maintained housing, the report says. This also affects third-generation blacks and Latinos, among whom 21 percent live in housing with three or more “maintenance deficiencies.”

Third-generation whites have the highest median income of any ethnic group covered by the report. But low-income whites of this group, many elderly, have the worst rent burden: 65 percent pay more than half their income for rent.