Solving New York City’s Housing Crisis


Volume CI, No. 4April, 2001

Mark Green

There is a housing crisis in New York City today. But it’s gone on so long in our city that some have grown accustomed to the conditions that reflect the crisis – from high rents to homelessness to scandal at the Buildings Department. Some don’t believe it is a crisis. So, like bathers who can’t detect the scalding water that increases degree by degree, they don’t even recognize it for the crisis it’s become.

It’s a crisis when employers in our city can’t attract or retain a quality workforce because – with a quarter of all renters now paying half their income in rent – they can’t afford to live here. It’s a crisis when working New Yorkers – cops and teachers and firefighters and the construction workers whom you employ – can’t afford to live here and raise a family here, as their parents did.

It is a crisis when the old and the young, the sick and the poor – those who work and those who don’t – are too often literally left out in the cold. The statistics are staggering. Half of all senior citizens who live alone spend over 40 percent of their income on rent, as do half of all female-headed families. More than 25,000 New Yorkers – including over 10,000 children and many working parents – are sleeping in the city’s shelter system each night. Nearly a thousand people who are HIV-positive or have AIDS are in emergency housing. Roughly 300,000 families and individuals sit on the combined waiting lists for public housing and Section 8 housing vouchers, where the expected wait is now eight to ten years.

And it is a crisis that cannot be fully described in numbers alone…

Over the past few months, I have toured Nehemiah homes in East Brooklyn, Brownsville and the South Bronx. I have met with residents of the homes developed by the Partnership and Neighborhood Housing Services in Jamaica. In every instance, I have felt a spirit of community, of accomplishment, of hope and ambition.

Given how demand outstrips supply, the percentage of our incomes going to housing, and how economic development stagnates if employees can’t afford to live – it is time to build upon these successes and create new urban miracles in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs.

Solving the affordable housing shortage will require the city to better preserve the existing housing stock and keep affordable housing affordable. But tonight I want to focus on a plan to create new housing.

This plan will require the leadership of city government. But it will also require a partnership with the state and federal governments, community-based organizations, foundations, employers, unions and every one of you in this room tonight. The city cannot afford to neglect the problem of affordable housing. But it cannot afford to solve this problem on its own.