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The 2020 census held some surprising news for New York City.  The City’s population, thought for years to be in decline, had actually grown significantly since 2010.  NYC added around 629,000 residents in the past decade, defying predictions that the city was shrinking.

But one piece of information from the 2020 census was unsurprising — the city still isn’t building enough housing.

NYC has massively underbuilt housing for years. While many people say they feel like there’s new construction everywhere, the fact is that New York has grown by 629,000 people and added only 209,000 housing units in the past 10 years. Given that most new New Yorkers are either singles or couples without children, that simply isn’t enough housing to keep up. It’s not surprising that when you add far more people than you do housing units, competition for those units causes the price of rent to soar.

We’ll never escape the high cost of rent without addressing the root issue — a lack of new housing units

We can see the results for ourselves. Over the past decade, housing prices in NYC have increased 58%. Around 42% of renter households are rent-burdened — they spend over 30% of their gross income on rent.  In Hell’s Kitchen, almost 35% of residents were rent-burdened. The news last week that New York rents now top San Francisco’s for the first time in years just piles on the pressure.

What’s happening in NYC is happening in Hell’s Kitchen too. According to map guru Tom Fish, Hell’s Kitchen added 12,080 residents in the past decade, compared to only 3,981 new housing units.  There are some census blocks in Hell’s Kitchen where there were zero new housing units built in the last 10 years.  

It’s ridiculous that in one of the most desirable cities in the world — a city that is famously welcoming to immigrants, a city that advertises itself as ‘where dreams are made’ — there are neighborhoods that completely shut the door to newcomers and build zero housing.

Unfortunately, our local politics often exacerbates this problem. Community boards encourage more restrictions on where housing can be built, more rules about how that housing must be developed, and more and more steps in the approval process. It’s all too common to hear about lengthy delays in approval for new housing projects, community boards voting against new buildings, and fierce opposition to rezoning.  All this creates a housing supply shortage, which in turn leads to soaring prices for the limited housing supply available. 

What can be done? We need to vote for city council members and other local politicians who will advance new housing, not slow it down or restrict it.  We’ve had a lot of programs providing help for rent-burdened people — both NYC programs and federal COVID relief programs. These funds have helped to relieve the pressure of high housing costs during a pandemic. But we’ll never escape the high cost of rent without addressing the root issue — a lack of new housing units.

Construction underway in 2015 of 555TEN next to the Croatian Church in Hell’s Kitchen. Photo: Phil O’Brien.

We also need action at federal level to break the hold that NIMBYs have on the politics of NYC housing. NYC’s representatives in Congress should support the YIMBY Act and the Build More Housing Near Transit Act. These bills would ensure federal money flows to places that make it easy to build new housing, not places that restrict and prevent new housing at every opportunity.

I am not a native New Yorker — I moved to Hell’s Kitchen a decade ago.  After 10 years, it’s hard for me to imagine living anywhere else.  I want more housing for NYC because it will make our rents cheaper, because it will make us a more dynamic and open city, and because it will give more people the chance to do what I did — become a New Yorker. 


Jeremiah Johnson is the director of the Center for New Liberalism, a housing advocate, and a Hell’s Kitchen resident for 10 years.

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4 Comments

  1. The city needs to seriously implement new infrastructure, subways, add new bus routes, fix bad tasting water etc to support and renew the massive corrosion of everything that is collapsing… Streets are constantly being dug up all over Manhattan. Sheds are on every block on the UWS for decades. Maybe this would make it a thriving livable feasible ongoing experience to live here. Right now it’s becoming a dump.

  2. No, historic Hells Kitchen does not need new housing built on every single block. What a strange suggestion. Is there no respect for the quality of our neighborhood? If every block starts building up up up then our neighborhood will be gone and we will simply be another overpopulated dystopia.

    Imagine Paris or Venice with this mindset. Tragic! I for one treasure the quality of our blocks and the abundance of sunshine we are blessed with while other neighborhoods become shadowed with more and more high rises.

  3. I love that Gregg above is basically saying “Nobody else is allowed to move here or have a home, because I might have to walk through some shadows of tall buildings”

    If you’re so bothered by tall buildings why do you live in Manhattan?

  4. No, Ashley, that’s not what I said. I said we don’t need new housing on every single block, so that we don’t lose the historic character of our neighborhood. New housing could certainly be built without encroaching on every single block.

    I’m much more interested in new infrastructure like bringing in quality grocery stores to serve the population we already have.

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