Most Renters Think NYC is Unaffordable but Still Plan to Stay



For all the talk from mayoral candidates about the middle class and proposals to make New York City more affordable, most New Yorkers think City Hall can’t do much to bring down their cost of living, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC 4 New York/Marist poll.


Source: WSJ/NBC NY/Marist poll of 1,118 NYC registered votes conducted June 17-21 (2013)


And while few believe the city is affordable, most New Yorkers said they plan to stick around, according to the poll, highlighting the city’s complicated relationship with the high price tag of living here.

The poll found that 82% of New Yorkers said the city is either not very affordable or not affordable at all. Just 1% said they think New York is “very affordable.”

The Bloomberg administration and private developers have invested billions to create or preserve nearly 150,000 units of new affordable housing around the city. And now the two leaders in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination— Anthony Weiner and Christine Quinn—are making affordability important parts of their campaigns.

But 58% of registered voters said they think their pocketbook pain is beyond the mayor’s control—despite the fact that people said jobs and economic development were two of the three most important issues in this election.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said the issues people are most worried about aren’t connected to what they think the next mayor can do. “They’re worried about money and worried about the cost of making ends meet in their own lives, and they’re really not putting a lot of faith in government in terms of the potential to deliver on that,” he said.

Indra Ramsahai, a 59-year-old stock broker and real-estate agent, said she felt better off when she first arrived in the city 38 years ago than she does now, in part because of the recent recession and the high costs of college for her two children.

“If I was comparing the economy today and then, we made a better living then,” she said.

Her job has been challenging because smaller investors aren’t putting their money in the stock market as much. She has also been paying to send two children to college—both of whom still live in a house she has owned in Queens since the 1980s because they can’t afford to move out.

Ms. Ramsahai said the most important thing the next mayor could do is support younger residents. “The most important things right now is jobs, jobs, jobs. I would say opening doors for younger people, helping them with their education. College is very expensive right now,” she said.

Even those with high salaries said living here was challenging.

Mark Casey, 55 years old, and his wife take home more than $200,000 a year. They live in a one-bedroom apartment on Ninth Street and Broadway valued at just shy of $1 million.

Mr. Casey, a freelance security consultant, said the city’s housing costs make it unaffordable.

“If you’ve got children, you’re just trying to get them in the right schools and you’re living hand to mouth,” Mr. Casey said. “And you’re not even including health insurance. We’d love to have a larger apartment but everyone in New York says that.”

New Yorkers have griped about the city’s costs long before a modest one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan could command more than $2,000 and a cocktail could easily cost $14.

But there are indications that the city is becoming more out of reach. Even since the economy has begun improving, more people perceive the city as unaffordable than just a couple of years ago. In an October 2011 NY1/YNN-Marist poll, 74% of people said the city was not very affordable or not affordable at all. A quarter of people back then said it was either affordable or very affordable.

From 2007 to 2011, there was an overall decrease in median household income when adjusted for inflation to just over $50,000 from more than $54,000, according to a upcoming report by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy. Meanwhile, during the same period, the median rent in the city rose by 8.5% from $999 to $1,084.

Ingrid Gould Ellen, co-director of the Furman Center, said the decrease in affordability is partly a consequence of the city’s success in becoming a cleaner, safer place to live.

“The more livable we make a city, the more desirable it is, and that’s going to put more upward pressure on rents,” she said.

A Democratic mayoral forum on affordable housing on Tuesday evening demonstrated the passions that are stirred when questions about the city’s high costs of living are raised. The audience of mostly tenant groups cheered when the candidates promised permanently affordable housing and strengthening rent-stabilization laws.

Ms. Quinn, a former affordable housing advocate, has promised to create 80,000 new apartments, half of which would be targeted to middle-income earners.

Anthony Weiner, who has been positioning himself as a fighter for the middle class, is promising to target 20% of housing that receives tax breaks for middle-income housing.

Those plans are pitched in part as a way to keep residents and companies from moving to suburbs and other, less expensive cities.

The poll found that about seven in 10 residents intend to stay in the city, while 20% said they plan to move somewhere else in the next five years. That is slightly higher than the national average, but lower than the state average.

Business leaders said the city’s lack of cheap housing has emerged as a crucial issue attracting and retaining especially middle-class workers.

New York City has lost about 100,000 mid-wage jobs, defined as those paying a salary between $35,000 and $75,000, while there has been a net gain in both high and low-income jobs, according to Kathryn Wylde, of the Partnership for New York City. The largest losses have been secretarial jobs, while the biggest gains have been jobs for personal home health aides.

“It’s a huge issue for recruiting employees to New York for companies that are trying to grow businesses here. We see the cost of living, particularly the cost of housing, as a major competitive obstacle,” Ms. Wylde said.

One quarter of people under 30 who were polled said they were considering leaving.

Carmen Lopez, 25, who works as a nurse case manager and supports her husband and 1-year-old daughter on $55,000 a year, said she is considering leaving.

“There are really no resources for working people. It constantly feels like you’re pinching pennies, and the rent is extremely high,” Ms. Lopez said.

Ms. Lopez, who was raised in New York, said her sister lives in San Antonio and has a much better quality of life. But she said first she wants to complete an advanced degree and save money for the move.

“To even get up and make that move would be difficult because you can’t save,” she said.


Source: Wall Street Journal

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