NYC Is Completely Unaffordable, But New Yorkers Are In Denial


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Two-thirds of residents say they live in the “greatest city in the world,” yet many of those people are barely getting by.

Here’s more evidence that New York City is unaffordable for most people — but that they’ll probably keep living there anyway.

Just over half of New Yorkers are either “just getting by” or finding it difficult or very difficult to manage their finances, according to a New York Times/Siena College Poll released this week.  Of those with household incomes under $50,000, almost three-quarters are just getting by or having difficulties. Surprisingly, 17 percent of respondents with household incomes over $100,000 gave this answer.

By contrast, forty-nine percent of all New Yorkers surveyed said they were “living comfortably” or “doing alright.”

The researchers interviewed nearly 2,000 New Yorkers by phone in late October and early November, and the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent. While the results offered insights about access to food, housing and employment, as well as crime, government response and other neighborhood characteristics, the poll didn’t attempt to determine the main cause of residents’ financial struggles.

There’s one likely contender, though: rent.

More than half of NYC households are considered rent-burdened, meaning they spend 30 percent or more of their income on rent alone, more than what’s considered affordable by official standards.

Some are doing much worse — 17 percent of New Yorkers who were questioned for the Siena poll said there was a time in the past year when they didn’t have enough money for shelter.

Still, when asked whether New York is the greatest city in the world, two-thirds of residents said yes, suggesting that the allure of the city and the economic opportunities it offers will keep people there despite hardships.

Many consider high rents a valid tradeoff for New York City’s cultural offerings and robust economy. Yet earnings aren’t keeping up with the cost of living.  Median gross rent went up 2.9 percent between 2013 and 2014, while median renter household income actually fell less than a percentage point, according to data analysis from New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.






Don Levy, director of the Siena Research Institute in Albany, said his group has asked upstate New York residents the same question about how they’re managing financially. Even in rural areas, where residents make far less money than in the city, Levy said more people said they were “living comfortably” and “doing alright.”

“From the vantage point of upstate, it feels like New York City’s economy drives the New York state engine,” he remarked. “Yet you look at these numbers and you see that about half of a random sample of New Yorkers are at best just getting by.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made housing affordability a priority since he took office last year. He vowed to create or preserve 200,000 affordable housing units over 10 years, a critical step in a market with such limited supply. Just this week, de Blasio announced a $2.6 billion effort to add 15,000 units of affordable housing that would provide counseling and other services for vulnerable populations such as veterans and domestic violence victims.

“If you address the challenge of housing, a family can get by — they can make ends meet,” de Blasio said back in July while celebrating a record number of new affordable housing units, according to DNAinfo. “If they can’t address their housing expenses, so many other things are not possible.”

But the mayor’s plans have also received criticism, and it appears residents aren’t reassured about the future of affordable housing in New York: Over 60 percent of the people polled by Siena disapprove of the way de Blasio is addressing affordable housing.

Kate Abbey-Lambertz covers sustainable cities, as well as land use, housing and inequality. Tips? Email:

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