Scarce land, rigid building rules, and a thriving economy that attracts new workers have made New York one of the world’s most expensive cities in which to rent or buy a home. Low-income New Yorkers suffer most from the lack of affordable market housing. Many cram into tiny apartments. Others seek accommodation in the city’s vast public-housing system—spanning 176,066 apartments in 326 developments and home to one in 14 New Yorkers.
Here, too, low-income city dwellers are ill-served. Average waiting times for a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) unit stretch to 7.5 years. Those who endure the wait face high crime, dilapidated buildings, and scant access to supermarkets and other stores.
NYCHA does little to ensure that its scarce public resources are fairly shared. Despite a shortage of units, NYCHA residents can stay indefinitely. Many do: the average tenant has lived in public housing for more than 18 years. Nor do residents face pressure to leave when they rise out of poverty. More than one in ten NYCHA households have incomes greater than the New York City median ($53,000).
Low turnover is not the only problem. More than a quarter of NYCHA residents live in apartments so spacious that bedrooms outnumber occupants. Meanwhile, some groups are sharply underrepresented. Asians, for instance, account for 11.1% of the city’s households in poverty but make up only 4.7% of NYCHA households.
To create more equitable public housing, NYCHA should, among other things, prioritize outreach to underserved communities, as well as adopt policies that encourage a higher rate of turnover, particularly among tenants whose rising incomes place them firmly in the middle class.
Howard Husock is the Vice President of Research and Publications at the Manhattan Institute. From 1987 through 2006, he was director of case studies in public policy and management at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.