Affordable housing, as defined by the U.S. government, enables qualified residents to put 30% of their income toward housing while the government subsidizes the rest of the cost. While New York City (N.Y.C.) upholds this basic principle, the conditions surrounding affordable housing often make its related costs unrealistic for low-income families.
Contemporary affordable housing in N.Y.C. revolves around the concept of “inclusionary zoning,” or incentivizing luxury developments to incorporate a certain percentage of units for low-income people. This policy relies on market forces and was created with the best of intentions – avoiding segregation and bringing people diverse in income and experience together. Unfortunately, “this public-private, affordable-luxury model of development has not produced enough affordable housing to meet the needs of longtime, working class residents. The flood of new luxury units has far outpaced the trickle of affordability.” Affordable housing is so scarce in N.Y.C. that the U.N. assigned an expert in 2009 to investigate a possible violation of human rights. As a result, the gentrification spurred by high-end apartments in places such as Greenpoint-Williamsburg raises the cost of other aspects of life (food, education, transportation) for low-income families.
Where subsidized public housing is not grouped with luxury apartments, it is built where land is cheapest – furthest from the city center. These areas suffer from poor transit connectivity and astronomical commuting times, significantly increasing a family’s transportation expenses.
Unfortunately, N.Y.C. has the highest rental costs in the country -- for all income levels. In 2009, nearly half of all renters put more than 30% of their income toward apartment rent (including utilities). 27.1% of renters paid more than 50% of their income toward rent, which New York State considers a “severe burden.” Although most urban planners believe in diversity and housing as a right for everyone, opponents might point out that there is no fundamental right to live in New York City. Nonetheless, N.Y.C.’s social sustainability – an essential aspect of the sustainable city – hangs in the balance.
What other challenges do those creating or seeking affordable housing face?
Credits: Image and data linked to sources.