The Rental Market

Many New Yorkers are bearing a higher rent burden than ever

By Alanna Schubach | April 21, 2016 - 9:59AM 

Yet another reason to give a nod to Jimmy McMillan and declare that the rent is too damn high: According to a report published today by StreetEasy, 65.2 percent of the average New Yorker's income will go toward rent, a significant jump from last year's 59.7 percent. Given the oft-cited rule of thumb that renters shouldn't devote more than 30 percent of their take home pay to housing, this number seems especially worrisome—and it's worse in some boroughs. 

Brooklyn wins the dubious honor of being the least affordable borough in the city, where residents are turning over 65.4 percent of their salaries to landlords; the median rent is $2,689. The average rent is higher in Manhattan—a whopping $3,205 per month—but it's also the only borough where the rent burden dropped from its rank in 2015, with slightly less than half of the average local's income now going toward housing. The discrepancy can be explained by the fact that Manhattanites have the highest median income—$76,089—compared to Brooklynites' $47,966.

Queens residents fared the worst over the past year, with their rent-to-income ratio jumping by 8 percentage points. As early as 2013, the New York Times reported growing interest in the area, particularly from renters who were finding that they could no longer afford Brooklyn, and late last year, StreetEasy predicted significant surges in demand, which seems to have come to pass. Intense development is underway, too; Long Island City alone has dozens of ongoing and planned residential and retail projects, which increases the housing supply, but can also jack up rents by increasing the value of neighborhood properties. 

At the neighborhood level, variations in rent-to-income ratios widen. The Bronx, for instance, remained relatively stable overall, seeing only a 0.9 increase over the past year, with an average of 54.1 percent of income spent on rent. But in the South Bronx specifically, locals face one of the highest rent burdens in the city, and the same goes for parts of East Brooklyn and Upper Manhattan--not coincidentally, also some of the poorest parts of New York. 

But throughout the city—and the country, for that matter—both low- and middle-income households have seen their salaries grow stagnant. Bankrate reports that median incomes have not recovered since the recession. Meanwhile, rents continue to rise. At the very least, New Yorkers have plenty of company, with residents of cities like Miami, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. also dropping well above half their incomes on rent, says the Washington Post

As for NYC, StreetEasy data scientist Alan Lightfeldt says that the city's low rental supply sends rents skyrocketing even when wages don't move: “Until income growth catches up with rent growth, the rent affordability problem will loom large on New York households," he says. 

The only borough where rent affordability isn't much of an issue? Staten Island, where the average resident sets aside 27.9 percent of their pay for rent, leaving plenty of spending money for a car payment.


Alanna Schubach

Contributing writer

Contributing editor Alanna Schubach has over a decade of experience as a New York City-based freelance journalist.

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