I live in South Brooklyn and I’m really worried about the city as I watch rents go up, outstripping salaries. I’m seeing rents that are $600 higher than they were two years ago. I don't feel like I know enough about what's going on. Who should I be following to learn more about the city’s affordable housing crisis?
Rents in New York City are indeed soaring to record highs and the situation is made critical by a lack of affordable housing. If you’re trying to get a handle on what’s going on, there are many tenants’ rights groups and nonprofits to check out as well as newsletters to sign up for to get a better sense of NYC’s housing issues and how they might be addressed through advocacy and with the support of state and city lawmakers.
A lack of affordable housing in NYC isn’t a new problem but it’s arguably getting worse. According to data from the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey, more than half of renter households—53 percent—were rent burdened in 2021, which means they spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent. That number has been trending upwards for decades.
Those invested in having affordable and equitable communities have been working on solutions for years. But for every proposal towards reaching the goal of affordable housing for all, there’s probably someone from a different group suggesting an alternative path. Getting the full picture on the issues and challenges is an important step towards taking action.
Who’s who in the fight for tenants' rights
The Met Council on Housing is a tenants’ rights membership organization with a mission to advocate housing for people, not profit. Each year they take up the annual fight to keep rent increases low for tenants in stabilized apartments by attending hearings, providing testimony, and attending the final vote of the Rent Guidelines Board, the group appointed by the mayor, which determines the allowable rent increases for these apartments. Having rent-stabilized tenants share their stories is an important part of the debate.
The Met Council on Housing also runs campaigns—the most recent one aims to give tenants more rights, eliminate tax subsidies for developers, and put more public resources into housing for low-income New Yorkers. This includes advocating for laws that would tip the balance of power in favor of tenants—including good cause eviction—as well as creating a $1 billion statewide housing voucher assistance program.
If you're not sure what good cause eviction is: It's a proposed law that would give tenants in market-rate apartments similar protections to those in rent-stabilized ones. It would mean automatic lease renewals for most renters and it would prevent massive rent hikes. It stalled in the last legislative session but tenant advocates say they haven't given up the fight.
Housing Justice for All is a statewide coalition of more than 80 organizations representing tenants and homeless New Yorkers. The group believes the real estate industry has too much power, the people have too little and the public sector has failed to invest in real solutions. Like the Met Council they advocate for increasing tenant rights. Follow the organization's campaign coordinators, like @CeaWeaver on social media.
Housing Rights Initiative is a non-profit national watchdog group that investigates real estate fraud, connects tenants to legal services, and promotes tenants' rights to fair and affordable housing. They are active in New York and recently filed a lawsuit against dozens of real estate companies and brokers for discriminating against renters with Section 8 vouchers. Founder Aaron Carr is also active on social media.
At the more local level, there are lots of neighborhood organizations and nonprofits trying to secure affordable housing opportunities for their communities. Many partner with the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development to help New Yorkers apply for rent-stabilized apartments through the NYC Housing Connect. For more on this, read: "Having trouble applying to NYC's affordable housing lottery? Housing Ambassadors can help."
The Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development is another group to follow. It's a member organization of community groups across the city, using research, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to build equity and justice in neighborhoods. Follow executive director Barika X. Williams on social media.
Another grassroots group advocating for more housing and lower rent is Open New York. The organization gets involved with individual projects, neighborhood rezonings, and broader policies through community board involvement and public engagement.
Follow—or become—the local representative in your neighborhood
Community boards are the first rung on the ladder of the city's administrative structure. More powerful than a local block association, community boards advise elected officials on neighborhood issues.
Find out which community board you live in and follow its members. If you're interested in taking it a step further, you can apply to become a member—the post is unpaid and you'd serve a two-year term but you get to weigh in on neighborhood zonings, investments in infrastructure, and applications for new housing. For more read: "How—and why—you should get on your NYC community board" and "What happens when your NYC neighborhood gets rezoned?"
With state and city elections around the corner, you may be thinking about how to make the most informed choice when it comes to candidates and their views on housing issues. Most tenant advocacy groups will make endorsements for candidates running for office and you can easily check these out on their websites. This gives you an idea of where the endorsed candidates—and those omitted—stand on housing issues. Follow them on social media to be part of the conversation.
One advocacy group, Tenants PAC, is devoted entirely to advancing the tenant cause through election activity. Tenants PAC contributes to pro-tenant candidates and you can volunteer to knock on doors and to staff phone banks on their behalf.
Where to find academic research and data on housing
NYU Furman Center is part of the Wagner School of Public Service and produces research and fosters debate on housing, neighborhoods, and urban policy. Check out their blog, The Stoop, for a range of research papers, discussions, and webinars.
Sign up for local news coverage of housing and real estate
Brick Underground aims to cover all aspects of the complicated buying, selling, and renting process in NYC to make it easier for you to understand your options and find a deal. Sign up for our newsletter and tune in to our podcast—the latest episode looked at private-equity backed owners buying up NYC rental buildings. Check out our Streetnoise posts for a daily round up of real estate news from other sites. You can also send us an email—we love answering reader questions.