Study Finds Two-Thirds of City Losing Ground

New York City is rapidly losing its ability to house low-income people, the Community Service Society said in a report released in May.

Almost half of city households with incomes below twice the federal poverty line now spend more than half their income on rent, the society’s annual “Making the Rent” report said, but the crisis affects far more than just the poor and near-poor. Incomes for the lower 60 percent of the city’s population, roughly households making less than $70,000 a year, have stayed flat since 2002, while their rents have gone up by 20 to 30 percent.

Regulations and policies intended to protect people from displacement are failing, the report said. The city’s stock of privately owned housing subsidized through Mitchell–Lama and federal housing programs “continues to erode.” The new housing produced through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit “is poorly targeted to the households with the greatest housing needs.” The public-housing stock is “deteriorating in quality.” And while rent-regulated apartments are “the major source of housing for low–income New Yorkers,” the system “is not only permitting too many apartments to be deregulated, but also allowing rents to rise to increasingly unaffordable levels for apartments that remain regulated.”

Gentrification is not the only problem, it said. While the number of low-income households paying more than half their income on rent increased sharply between 2002 and 2014—sometimes by as much as one-third—in gentrifying neighborhoods such as Astoria, Park Slope, and Red Hook, it also did in historically lower-income areas such as the central Bronx, East New York, and the Rockaways.

The report made three main recommendations for reforming rent regulations. The city Rent Guidelines Board “should take the economic situation of tenants into account” when setting annual increases. The state should eliminate the 20 percent bonus on vacant apartments, which it estimates accounts for about half the increase in regulated rents above the rate of inflation. And when tenants paying preferential rents renew their leases, the state should limit rent increases to a percentage of what they were actually paying, and not let landlords raise it to the legal maximum.