NYC data shows deep disparities in affordable housing creation

Some of New York City’s wealthiest and most suburban neighborhoods are barely adding any new subsidized apartments at all for low- and middle-income residents, even as renters face the deepest affordable housing shortage in decades, a Gothamist review of city data shows.

The city has financed roughly 24,000 apartments with rents capped for low- and middle-income tenants since Mayor Eric Adams took office at the start of 2022. Most are located in densely populated parts of the city that are predominantly Black and Latino, like Central Brooklyn and the South Bronx. Just a fraction of those new units are located in lower-density, predominantly white council districts, including in eastern Queens and Staten Island, according to the analysis of publicly available data from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Gothamist identified 11 council districts — with a combined population of roughly 1.9 million people — that have added fewer than 30 city-financed units apiece since the start of Adams’ tenure.

City officials and housing experts attribute the dearth of new affordable housing in some parts of the city to a mix of policy decisions, high costs and zoning restrictions, as well as frequent opposition to development from councilmembers and community groups. Adams has vowed to add more income-restricted housing in every neighborhood, but so far the data shows that his efforts aren’t materializing.

The disparities persist despite record-high homelessness, rising rents and New Yorkers’ struggles to find affordable housing throughout the five boroughs. Limits on even modest new affordable development can lock out low-income renters and make it even harder for seniors, young adults and families to find apartments they can afford.

“It’s creating a situation that’s unequal across the city,” said Brendan Cheney, policy director at the New York Housing Conference, which tracks affordable development.

Citywide, 1 in 3 renters spend over half their income on housing and more than half pay at least 30% — a threshold the federal government defines as rent-burdened. Less than 1% of apartments priced below $2,400 a month were vacant and available to rent last year, according to HPD’s latest housing survey.

Cheney said the city data revealed trends that can help challenge opposition to affordable housing in districts with almost no new development.

“When you can see a pattern, then you have a stronger argument to say that that pattern needs to change,” Cheney said.

A “City of Yes”

The mayor pledged to tackle the disparities in new development through changes to the city’s zoning code that could add “a little more housing in every neighborhood.”

His “City of Yes” plan would allow for modest residential development on top of low-rise commercial buildings, like one-story laundromats and 99 cent stores, and let developers build 20% bigger than zoning allows as long as they’re adding income-restricted units. NYU’s Furman Center, a housing policy research group, calls this type of development “gentle density” — small additions across large tracts of land, and somewhat bigger buildings along commercial corridors, rather than skyscraper apartment buildings erected in suburban areas.

A 2023 Furman report found the city’s lowest-density neighborhoods make up nearly half of the land in the five boroughs. But much of it is off limits for even modest new housing development, which fuels the disparities in affordable housing.

The 37th City Council District — which includes a section of East New York in Brooklyn that was rezoned for larger housing development eight years ago — added more than 1,900 new affordable units since 2022, city data shows. That’s about one new affordable apartment for every 100 residents.

But the plan that facilitated the new developments faces ongoing criticism for making too few units affordable for the lowest-income renters already living in the area. The district includes about 430 income-restricted units in Atlantic Chestnut 2, the second phase of a Cypress Hills affordable housing complex.

Inwood’s 600-unit North Cove tower made up the single largest tranche of new affordable apartments in the city. The building, set to open in June, is located in another recently rezoned area in northern Manhattan’s 10th Council District.

Both districts are about three-quarters Black and Hispanic, according to census data.

In contrast, developers started work on just four income-restricted units in northeast Queens’ mostly white and Asian 19th Council District, which includes Whitestone and Bayside, since the start of 2022.

The city banned most new housing development on about 350 blocks of Bayside in 2004 and about 311 blocks of Whitestone the next year, part of a spate of “downzonings” — which curtail large buildings — backed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Just 47 new income-restricted units were built in the district during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s eight-year tenure.

Staten Island’s 51st Council District, which covers the southern section of the borough and is home to about the same number of people as the 37th Council District, accounted for just 13 income-restricted units built or financed since 2022. The district ranks as sixth-highest in the city for median income and has a population that is more than three-quarters white, according to census data.

Some high-density neighborhoods are also contributing very little new income-restricted housing over the past two years.

Just one new affordable unit has been built or financed in the 6th Council District, which covers the Upper West Side. In the 5th Council District on the Upper East Side, the number is 15. Both neighborhoods are among the wealthiest in New York City, census data shows.

Councilmember Julie Menin, who represents the 5th Council District, called the paltry amount of income-restricted housing “unacceptable.”

“Our city is neither building nor preserving enough housing to keep up with demand,” she said in an email.

A spokesperson for the city’s housing agency says the Adams administration is well aware of the disparities and working to build new income-restricted housing throughout the five boroughs.

“To effectively address the city’s housing crisis, every neighborhood must be part of the city’s housing growth,” said HPD spokesperson William Fowler. “By building a little more housing in every neighborhood, City of Yes will open up new housing opportunities for New Yorkers from every walk of life.”

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams has also prioritized new development citywide, passing a bill last year to set benchmarks for new income-restricted housing in every community district.

“The framework will help the city ensure well-resourced neighborhoods that have not equitably contributed to affordable housing production do their fair share,” she said last year. “There has never been inclusivity like this.”

Local councilmembers say the data doesn’t always tell the whole story.

Councilmember Joe Borelli said development in his district doesn’t require city financing to keep rents low for tenants.

“We don’t need ‘affordable housing,’” he said. “Our market-rate housing is what’s considered affordable in 99% of the rest of the city.”

He pointed to Zillow listings for the ZIP code 10312, where 23 apartments are available. They range from $1,400 for a studio to $3,600 for a four-bedroom apartment in a two-family house. The studio would be considered affordable for an individual earning around $70,000 a year, while the four-bedroom apartment would be considered affordable for a family of six earning $136,000 a year, according to city guidelines.

Developers have produced just 22 units in Councilmember Justin Brannan’s 47th District in the past two years, but the recently redrawn district accounted for roughly 1,500 in the preceding eight years.

Brannan praised Speaker Adams’ housing framework legislation and said he is urging state lawmakers to pass a new version of an expired tax break for developers who include some income-restricted housing in their projects.

“Our homeless shelters will continue to fill if we’re not doing everything we can to get families out of shelter and back on their own two feet with a roof over their heads,” he said.

And Councilmember Shekar Krishnan represents Queens’ 25th Council District, where just 25 new units of affordable housing have been added since the start of 2022. Like Menin, he said the low number was hurting residents and added that he is looking for new locations for new affordable housing.

“We urgently need more housing everywhere in New York City,” he said.

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