New York City residents are convinced the city confronts an intractable housing crisis. The deterioration of New York City Housing Authority properties imperils its estimated 600,000 residents. The homeless shelter population is now at 61,000, and a January count found 3,675 unsheltered. About half the tenant population is severely rent-burdened, paying 50% of their income for housing.
The impact on the poor is clear.
“If someone had a housing hardship [in the past month], all their other hardships skyrocketed,” said Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy, research and advocacy at the Community Service Society of New York. “If they experience housing hardship, they cut back on everything else. There’s the risk of eviction or homelessness.”
“I would have ended up in the shelter like I was 13 years ago,” she said through a translator. “I went through it, and my children went through it. I didn’t want us to go through it again.”
Using vouchers can be difficult for apartment shoppers because they carry a stigma of homelessness. After many reports of prospective tenants being rejected for apartments, the city says it is working with landlords to improve acceptance.
The city also spent $238 million last year in emergency rental assistance—loans or single payments to prevent eviction for those who have temporary circumstances that might lead to homelessness. They range from a few hundred dollars to more than $30,000 and can be awarded even to applicants with less than sympathetic stories, such as the woman who fell behind on rent because she went to the Dominican Republic for liposuction. Though considered one-shots, some tenants get them two or three times in a year, and about 80% are behind on repaying their loans.
Compare New York to Seattle, a progressive city that has struggled to build affordable units as rents have soared 65% since 2010 amid an Amazon-fueled economic boom. Washington state has banned rent control, and for single people, the city limits rent help to those making no more than $31,000 and to six months in duration.
In New York the safety net continues to grow. In January the city will begin paying for half-priced MetroCards for residents below the federal poverty line. Mayor Bill de Blasio is extending pre-K to 3-year-olds, providing free schooling for an expected 62,000 children in addition to the approximately 70,000 in his program for 4-year-olds.