Since the days of Jacob Riis, housing has been viewed as the source of all urban ills. Riis photographed the deplorable living conditions of impoverished immigrants in the late 1880’s and is often credited with helping to establish the first tenement building code which required minimal light, ventilation and sanitary conditions at a time when indoor plumbing was rare. As government mandates imposed on property owners to cure social ills have multiplied (most recently through clean air mandates), housing has become vastly more expensive. The high cost of housing itself becomes another urban ill, “the affordable housing crisis” which in turn is credited with creating more urban problems such as poor health!
So now we have New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer doing his impersonation of Jacob Riis by pointing to the negative health consequences of an increase in over-crowding in New York City. While noting that overcrowding is not confined to poor, Stringer’s report fails to point out that a overcrowding is often a housing choice — sometimes by young folks starting out in the City willing to sacrifice space for location and sometimes by immigrants scrimping on housing costs in order to send remittances back home. Remarkably, the entire discussion of problems in the housing market proceeds without any mention of the fact that government intervention in the housing market is a very large part of the problem.