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New York City's Housing Gap Revisited


New York City's Housing Gap Revisited

Peter D. Salins February 1, 2002
Urban PolicyOtherInfrastructure & Transportation

This study measures New York City’s housing gap—the difference between the net number of dwelling units added to the housing supply in a given time period, and the number needed to accommodate population change. The study finds that:

  • New York City’s housing gap is large—about 140,000 units in 1999.
  • The City’s housing gap is even larger—over 400,000 units—if one takes into account the need to replace older housing stock. Failure to replace these decaying structures is a major reason New York City has an older housing stock than any other major American city.
  • Compared to other cities, housing in New York is not only scarce, but of low quality and highly priced. Only two cities—Boston and San Francisco—have higher median rent levels than New York.
  • Although housing production in New York City has trended upward since 1994, gains in the housing stock have been offset by a dramatic rise in the city’s population.
  • New York City and State have instituted policies that severely distort the dynamics of housing supply and demand. Only 30 percent of the city’s rental units, for instance, are subject to market prices. These distortions—coupled with Rube-Goldbergian environmental and zoning regulations—have denied New York the kind of healthy housing market enjoyed by most other major cities.
  • The addition of more price-controlled housing—as proposed by most housing advocates, and by most candidates in the city’s recent electoral campaign—will only exacerbate the market-distortions which underlie the current housing shortage.
  • If New Yorkers are to enjoy a vibrant and high quality housing market, building regulations must be streamlined to accord with those of other cities, and the proportion of market-priced housing must be expeditiously increased.
  • The current crisis should energize the new city administration to tackle reform with renewed vigor. In the end, however, true reform will require policymakers to mobilize the city’s greatest strength, which has fortunately been everywhere in evidence since September 11: the good judgment, and enlightened self-interest, of New Yorkers themselves.