Survey Finds Median Rent Up $150 Since 2008

More than 60 percent of the rental apartments in New York City cost more than $1,000 a month, according to preliminary data released in February from the 2011 Housing and Vacancy Survey. Many of those who pay less are public-housing residents.

The survey, conducted every three years by the Census Bureau for the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development, found that rising rents continue to claim a bigger share of New Yorkers’ incomes. The median rent for the city is $1,100 a month, up from $950 in 2008. In 2008, about a quarter of the occupied apartments rented for less than $700. Now, only about 16 percent—about 333,000 apartments, mostly in various forms of subsidized housing—are under $700, and only about 22 percent of apartments rent for less than $800.

With the city’s renters having a median household income of about $38,500 a year (compared with $48,000 for all city households), that means more than half of tenants now spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Almost 30 percent pay more than half of what they make. In 2008, the median rent was about 29 percent of household income.

Less than half the city’s 2,173,000 rental apartments are still covered by rent regulations, with 987,000 rent-stabilized and 38,000 rent-controlled. Rent-stabilized tenants earn slightly less and pay slightly lower rents than average, with a median rent of $1,050 and income of $37,000.

Privately owned unregulated apartments account for 39 percent of the total. The other 14 percent includes public housing and Mitchell-Lama buildings. These have the lowest rents—a median of $591—but the poorest residents, with a median income of less than $18,000.

About 68,000 apartments were available for rent. That means the vacancy rate for rental apartments is 3.12 percent, well below the 5 percent defined as a housing emergency, the legal justification for continuing rent regulations. The rate is lowest in Brooklyn and Manhattan. 

The shortage is most extreme for the cheapest apartments. The survey estimated that there are barely 5,000 apartments available for less than $800, a vacancy rate of 1.1 percent. For apartments above the $2,500 threshold for deregulation, it’s 5.3 percent.

Two other statistics also indicate a pricier, more affluent housing market. The study found less than 6,000 rental apartments considered “dilapidated,” about 0.3 percent of the total. Five out of six tenants in the survey said they’d had no problems with heat the previous winter, and 7 percent reported four or more heating breakdowns. 

But the number of apartments held as non-primary residences now almost exceeds the number of vacant apartments available for rent. Among the 164,000 vacant apartments that were not on the market, 64,000, almost 40 percent, were reserved by their owners for “occasional, seasonal, or recreational use,” a dramatic increase from 2008, when there were 37,000. Most of these are in co-ops or condominiums, and most are in Manhattan.