Poverty in NYC

photo by Salvation Army USA West

NYU’s Furman Center has released its annual State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods along with a focus on Poverty in New York City. The State of the City report is always of great value but each year’s focus is where we get to see the City in a new light. This year is no different:

In New York City in recent years, rents have risen much faster than incomes. The pressures of rising housing costs may be greatest on those with the fewest resources—people living in poverty. New York City has a larger number of people living in poverty today than it has since at least 1970. This sparks a range of questions about the experience of poverty in New York City that we address in this year’s State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods Focus. Who in New York City is poor today? Where do they live? What are the characteristics of the neighborhoods where poor New Yorkers live? Are poor New Yorkers more likely to be living in areas of concentrated poverty than they were in the past? How, if at all, do the answers to each of these questions differ by the race, ethnicity, and other characteristics of poor households?

Though the share of New Yorkers living in poverty has been relatively constant over the past few decades, there was a drop at the end of the last decade and then an increase in 2011–2015. Poverty concentration—the extent to which poor New Yorkers are living in neighborhoods with other poor New Yorkers—followed a similar trend, dropping in 2006–2010 and increasing again since then. The neighborhood of the typical poor New Yorker varies substantially from that of the typical non-poor New Yorker, but those disparities are largely experienced by black and Hispanic New Yorkers living in poverty. The typical poor Asian and white New Yorkers live in neighborhoods that do better on the measures we examine than the neighborhoods of the typical non-poor New Yorker. We also find that neighborhood conditions vary significantly based on the level of poverty in a neighborhood. Higher poverty neighborhoods have higher violent crime rates, poorer performing schools, and fewer adults who are college educated or working. And, poor New Yorkers are not all equally likely to live in these neighborhoods. Poor black and Hispanic New Yorkers are much more likely to live in higher poverty neighborhoods than poor white and Asian New Yorkers. Children make up a higher share of the population in higher poverty neighborhoods than adults or seniors. (1, footnotes omitted)

Policymakers should have a lot to chew over in this report. Let’s hope they give it a read.

Neighborhood Change and Public Housing


The Effects of Neighborhood Change on NYCHA Residents, a report released to little notice in May, has received a lot of attention after the NY Daily News wrote a disparaging article about it. I will leave it to others to decide if this report was worth its six figure price tag, but I do think that there are some interesting findings. The report was prepared by Abt Associates and NYU’s Furman Center, two leading housing research entities. The Findings at a Glance state that

In this study, Abt finds statistically significant differences in earnings for NYCHA residents living in different neighborhood types. Annual household earnings average $4,500 higher for public housing residents in persistently high‐income neighborhoods as compared to persistently low‐income neighborhoods. Earnings are $3,000 higher for those in increasing income neighborhoods. Moreover, these findings are not attributable to any selection bias of residents choosing to live in either persistently high or low income neighborhoods. (1)

This is a pretty big deal, given that the average family income for NYCHA residents is $23,311. If this increased income is attributable to neighborhood characteristics, we would want to take that into account when formulating housing policy.

There were some other interesting findings that were also not highlighted by the Daily News:

  • Developments surrounded by persistently high‐income neighborhoods have lower violent crime rates (5.7 violent crimes per 1,000 residents) than those surrounded by persistently low‐income neighborhoods (8.3 violent crimes per 1,000 residents).
  • Developments in persistently high‐income neighborhoods are zoned for public elementary schools with higher standardized test scores than developments in persistently low‐income neighborhoods; 72% of NYCHA households in low‐income neighborhoods are zoned for schools in the bottom quartile for math proficiency (cf. 41% for those in high‐income neighborhoods).
  • Among public elementary and middle school students living in NYCHA housing, those living in developments surrounded by persistently high—and increasing—income neighborhoods score higher on standardized math and reading tests. (Findings at a Glance, 2)

Before this report is dismissed as a boondoggle, we should try to understand its implications for developing a housing policy that promotes socioeconomic diversity. This is a city of extremes of wealth and poverty and there has been a very negative reaction to policies, such as poor doors, that seem to reinforce that state of affairs. But it may turn out that public housing is a useful tool for creating the more equitable city that so many New Yorkers strive for. Let’s not shoot the messengers before we hear what they have to say.

Segregation in the 21st Century

NYU’s Furman Center has posted a research brief, Race and Neighborhoods in the 21st Century. The brief is is based on a longer paper, Race and Neighborhoods in the 21st Century: What Does Segregation Mean Today? (One of the co-authors of the longer paper, Katherine M. O’Regan, is currently Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at HUD.) The brief opens,

In a recent study, NYU Furman Center researchers set out to describe current patterns of residential racial segregation in the United States and analyze their implications for racial and ethnic disparities in neighborhood environments. We show that 21st Century housing segregation patterns are not that different from those of the last century. Although segregation levels between blacks and whites have declined nationwide over the past several decades, they still remain quite high. Meanwhile, Hispanic and Asian segregation levels have remained relatively unchanged. Further, our findings show that the neighborhood environments of blacks and Hispanics remain very different from those of whites and these gaps are amplified in more segregated metropolitan areas. Black and Hispanic households continue to live among more disadvantaged neighbors, to have access to lower performing schools, and to be exposed to more violent crime. (1)

And the brief concludes,

Black and Hispanics continued to live among more disadvantaged neighbors even after controlling for racial differences in poverty, to have access to lower performing schools, and to be exposed to higher levels of violent crime. Further, these differences are amplified in more segregated metropolitan areas. Segregation in the 21st century, in other words, continues to result not only in separate but also in decidedly unequal communities. (5)

This conclusion makes clear that segregation is not merely the result of poverty. It is important to understand how segregation persists even though the legal support of segregation has been dismantled. Richard Brooks and Carol Rose’s work in this area is a good start for those who are interested.