Gentrification in NYC


The NYU Furman Center released its annual State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods (2015). This year’s report focused on gentrification:

“Gentrification” has become the accepted term to describe neighborhoods that start off predominantly occupied by households of relatively low socioeconomic status, and then experience an inflow of higher socioeconomic status households. The British sociologist Ruth Glass coined the term in 1964 to describe changes she encountered in formerly working-class London neighborhoods, and sociologists first began applying the term to New York City (and elsewhere) in the 1970s. Since entering the mainstream lexicon, the word “gentrification” is applied broadly and interchangeably to describe a range of neighborhood changes, including rising incomes, changing racial composition, shifting commercial activity, and displacement of original residents. (4)

The reports main findings are

  • While rents only increased modestly in the 1990s, they rose everywhere in the 2000s, most rapidly in the low-income neighborhoods surrounding central Manhattan.
  • Most neighborhoods in New York City regained the population they lost during the 1970s and 1980s, while the population in the average gentrifying neighborhood in 2010 was still 16 percent below its 1970 level.
  • One third of the housing units added in New York City from 2000 to 2010 were added in the city’s 15 gentrifying neighborhoods despite their accounting for only 26 percent of the city’s population.
  • Gentrifying neighborhoods experienced the fastest growth citywide in the number of college graduates, young adults, childless families, non-family households, and white residents between 1990 and 2010-2014. They saw increases in average household income while most other neighborhoods did not.
  • Rent burden has increased for households citywide since 2000, but particularly for low- and moderate-income households in gentrifying and non-gentrifying neighborhoods.
  • The share of recently available rental units affordable to low-income households declined sharply in gentrifying neighborhoods between 2000 and 2010-2014.
  • There was considerable variation among the SBAs [sub-borough areas] classified as gentrifying neighborhoods; for example, among the SBAs classified as gentrifying, the change in average household income between 2000 and 2010-2014 ranged from a decrease of 16 percent to an increase of 41 percent. (4)

The report provides a lot of facts for debates about gentrification that often reflect predetermined ideological viewpoints. The fact that jumped out to me was that a greater percentage of low-income households in non-gentrifying neighborhoods were rent burdened than in gentrifying neighborhoods. (14-15)

This highlights the fact that we face a very big supply problem in the NYC housing market — we need to build a lot more housing if we are going to make a serious dent in this problem. The De Blasio Administration is on board with this — the City Council needs to get on board too.

Lots more of interest in the Furman report — worth curling up with it on a rainy afternoon.


The Rental Crisis and Household Formation


The Mortgage Bankers Association has posted a Special Report: Diverted Homeowners, the Rental Crisis and Foregone Household Formation. The report’s bottom line is that people who should have been homeowners have displaced people who should have been renters. Those displaced people have been left in their original households, typically those headed by their parents.

The Report’s Executive Summary states that among the long term impacts of the Great Recession

have been the emergence of a rental housing shortage and an intensified affordability crisis in the rental market. In this report, we analyze various supply and demand factors that have led to this crisis.

In so doing, we provide detailed analysis of the shifts in homeowner and rental demand. As we note, these shifts cannot be analyzed without understanding the shifts in household formation that have occurred. We utilize data from the U.S. Census and focus the analysis on 3 distinct time periods (2000, 2006, 2012) to highlight housing epochs that are relatively normal, at the peak, and near the bottom of the market. Special attention is also placed on those younger than age 45 because they represent the households most commonly making first time decisions to form a household and to own a house.

Our primary findings:

• A sharp downturn in homeowner growth since 2006 suggests that 6.0 million would-be homeowners (the expected number compared to actual) have been shifted to renting or have left the housing market.

• These diverted homeowners triggered a cascade of adjustments throughout the rental housing sector that are measurable in different ways.

• A sizable portion (roughly a third) of the diverted homeowners likely have been absorbed into single-family rentals, especially among households aged 25 to 54.

• Although larger than expected, growth in the rental sector was too small to account for both the expected rental growth and also the large number of diverted homeowners. Before disruptions to the owner-occupied market, the rental sector had been expected to grow by 4.4 million occupied units after 2006, due to the arrival of the large Millennial generation. While diverted homeowners resulted in demand for nearly 6 million additional rental units, rental housing only grew by 5.2 million.

• New construction was crippled during the financial crisis and aftermath, slowing its response to the swelling rental demand, although multifamily construction volume nearly doubled in 2012 compared to 2010, and increased another third in 2014 compared to 2012.

• The clear inference is that slightly more than 5 million otherwise-expected renters left or never entered the housing market, their growth displaced by the diverted homeowners, and diminishing overall household growth far below expectations. (1)

• A further consequence of the resulting increase in demand and shortfall in supply in the rental market was an increase in rents, with rental affordability problems surging to record heights in 2010 and 2012. This dynamic created an increased incidence of high rental cost burdens that was remarkable for its relative uniformity across the nation.

There has been a fair amount written recently about household formation (here and here, for instance), but this Report is notable for its description of the cascading effect that the financial crisis has had on today’s housing market. We are around the fifty-year low for the homeownership rate.  If that rate has hit bottom, perhaps the trends identified in the MBA report are about to reverse course.

The Challenge of Rising Rents


NYU’s Furman Center has issued a research brief, The Challenge of Rising Rents: Exploring Whether a New Tax Benefit Could Help Keep Unsubsidized Rental Units Affordable. The brief considers whether the creation of “a new property tax subsidy program aimed at maintaining affordability in buildings that currently provide affordable rents could be attractive to owners.” (1)

The brief concludes that

The bulk of New York City’s housing stock that is affordable to low-income households is in buildings that currently receive no government subsidy to maintain low rents. In a city where the real estate market is booming and the supply of housing is constrained, the upward pressure on these rents is likely to continue. However, our analysis here suggests that there are some markets in the city where an owner of an unsubsidized building would agree to restrict future rent increases in exchange for a tax benefit.

If owners think their building is in a neighborhood likely to experience rapid rent increases, they are not likely to participate in a program like the one we have outlined. But, owners who are less optimistic about rent growth in their neighborhood may be willing to sign up in exchange for the certainty of a 30-year tax break. Owners might be more likely to participate in this program than our modeling suggests if it were bundled with another benefit or if the regulatory requirements were less onerous. (11)

This is obviously a good exercise to undertake, but I wonder if most landlords believe that their buildings are like Lake Wobegon children — above average, one and all. So, if the success of this proposal rests on reaching pessimistic landlords, it may be relying on a very small pool of landlords indeed.

Affordable Housing for which Low-Income Households?

The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s latest issue of Housing Spotlight provides its annual examination of “the availability of rental housing affordable to” extremely low income “and low income renter households . . ..” (1) It finds that

the gap between the number of ELI households and the number of rental homes that are both affordable and available to them has grown dramatically since the foreclosure crisis and recession. Despite this growing need, most new rental units being built are only affordable to households with incomes above 50% of AMI. At the same time, the existing stock of federally subsidized housing is shrinking through demolition and contract expirations, and waiting lists for housing assistance remain years long in many communities. Federal housing assistance is so limited that just one out of every four eligible households receives it. (1, emphasis in the original)
The article, “Affordable Housing is Nowhere to be Found for Millions,” describes the role of the National Housing Trust Fund, signed into law by the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, but only recently funded by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac:
The NHTF is structured as a block grant to states, and at least 90% of all funding will be used to produce, preserve, rehabilitate and operate rental housing. Further, 75% of rental housing funding must benefit ELI. The funding of the NHTF will make a difference in the lives of many ELI renters by supporting the development and preservation of housing affordable to this income group. However, additional funding to the NHTF will be necessary to assure support to all income eligible households in need of housing. (1, footnote omitted)
The NLIHC’s key findings from this work include,
  • The number of ELI renter households rose from 9.6 million in 2009 to 10.3 million in 2013 and they made up 24% of all renter households in 2013.
  • There was a shortage of 7.1 million affordable rental units available to ELI renter households in 2013. Another way to express this gap is that there were just 31 affordable and available units per 100 ELI renter households. The data show no change from the analysis a year ago.
  • For the 4.1 million renter households DLI renter households in 2013, there was a shortage of 3.4 million affordable rental units available to them. There were just 17 affordable and available units per 100 DLI renter households.
  • Seventy-five percent of ELI renter households spent more than half of their income on rent and utilities; 90% of DLI renter households spent more than half of their income for rent and utilities.
  • In every state, at least 60% of ELI renters paid more than half of their income on rent and utilities. (1)

Given that housing affordability remained a problem during both boom times and bust and given that we should not expect another dramatic expansion of federal subsidies for rental housing, now might be a good time to ask what we can reasonably expect from the Housing Trust Fund. Should it be spread wide and thin, helping many a bit, or narrow and deep, helping a few a lot? No right answers here.