Renter catastrophe shows how bad NYC housing really is

The bad news for New York city housing just keeps coming. Recent data suggest that a full third of current rental vacancies — more than 22,000 — come from tenants moving out over post-COVID rent hikes 

The pandemic drove people from the city, forcing landlords to offer sweetheart deals and concealing temporarily the persistent affordability issues that plague the city’s housing market. Now that COVID’s receded, the market’s heating back up, with the median listing for an available Manhattan unit setting a new record in June at $4,050.

Progressive groups will cry foul and blame landlords for their alleged greed. They’ll recommend pie-in-the-sky affordable-housing policies — while simultaneously kiboshing development and congratulating themselves for it. 

Recall that in May, the city lost out on more than 900 new apartments via the One45 project when the developer called it quits because of thoughtless progressive opposition on the City Council. That’s consistent with longer-term numbers. Per one analysis based on federal Census stats, in 2020 (the last year with full data available) New York City permitted just 2.41 units of new housing for every 1,000 residents. Miami saw 13.3; Austin 18.8. 

So it’s clear the key to solving New York City’s housing crisis doesn’t lie in supply restrictions. It lies in letting developers build as much as they can and having the market take care of the rest. 

More apartments, put simply, means we’ll see real affordable housing. Not the artificially mandated kind we have now (in the form of rent-stabilized, rent-controlled and subsidized housing) that only chokes off the supply even further by incentivizing tenants to never move. 

As on crime, Mayor Eric Adams is saying the right things on housing: He wants to transform New York into a “City of Yes” when it comes to new developments. But his housing blueprint, unveiled last month, is worryingly light on concrete goals (like, say, a hard number of new residential units). 

That’s nowhere near enough — especially since it comes against a city and state policy climate utterly hostile to serious expansion of our housing inventory. 

Indeed, that climate just got worse: Progressives in Albany this year killed the 421a tax abatement for developers, basically guaranteeing that the private sector will only do luxury housing projects, since the city tax code makes building new apartment buildings even for middle-income folks prohibitively expensive.

What’s it going to take? Adams needs to set goals on and aggressively fight for inventory expansion, bringing the battle to his opponents to the left on housing as he’s done on crime. The loss of 421a, for example, makes it urgent to update New York City’s Byzantine property-tax system.

Bigger-picture, the city housing market would flourish if we could finally end or at least rein in all forms of rent control, which benefit those who have a controlled unit at the expense of everyone else while massively discouraging new construction.

Until New York starts encouraging new housing instead of attacking it, rents will only grow ever more unaffordable. 

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