Rent increases, resources dwindle for New Yorkers needing help
The cost of rent has skyrocketed in New York City, leaving many residents struggling to make ends meet without financial aid.
Startling data shows that nearly 50% of working adults are grappling with the challenge of soaring rents, according to a report by Fund for the City of New York.
The situation has ignited conversations about available lifelines for individuals as they adjust to the new post-pandemic landscape.
"You can't really live no more in the city," said Margerita Gomez, a resident of Manhattan for over 30 years.
"Rents just constantly keep going up and up, my friends are renting and constantly talk about how shocking it is," said Catherine Powell, of Harlem, expressing her frustration.
New Yorkers we spoke with lamented that the high cost of rent is almost unbearable. This is further evidenced by the staggering figures. Economists have estimated that market rents have surged by nearly 25% over the past couple of years, marking the steepest increase among major cities in the US. While there was a temporary drop in rent prices during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts emphasize that those brief lows are now a thing of the past.
"The first year of the pandemic from spring 2020 to spring 2021, rents in New York did fall which is something that hasn't happened in a long time but since then it has increased and the increase has more than made up for the fall we saw during the pandemic," J.W. Mason, associate professor of Economics at John Jay College.
During the pandemic, several initiatives were established to assist individuals unable to pay rent due to income loss. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program, as detailed in the New York State comptroller's July report, provided aid to approximately 186,625 households in New York City, amounting to a staggering $2.5 billion in rent payments. However, the program ceased accepting applications after January of this year, leaving thousands of unpaid applicants in limbo.
City Comptroller Brad Lander acknowledges that aside from these programs, there are few options available for those struggling with or falling behind on rent, other than resorting to the homeless system. Lander emphasizes, "the modest resources we have to get into supportive housing or to get a voucher called CityFHEPS are given to people who are homeless… this is a big problem."
Lander encourages New Yorkers to apply for affordable housing through the city's Housing Connect platform. However, he acknowledges that the demand far surpasses the supply. The immediate solutions, he believes, rest with lawmakers in Albany and the federal government.
"If Albany were to pass good cause eviction protections even if your unit wasn't rent-regulated, your landlord would only be able to evict you for a good reason and doubling your rent would not count as a good reason… this would at least protect people who are living in rental housing from losing their homes."
He also bemoans the loss of affordable housing initiatives created by the federal government in the past.
“Once upon a time the federal government built a lot of affordable housing, built a lot of public housing, put a lot of section eight vouchers out there and people could get them and now almost all of that is gone,” said Lander
For longtime residents like Margerita Gomez, the transformation of the city's rental landscape is deeply troubling.
"I recall living here and the rent was about $300 and change, $400, my change has gone up to $1,900," said Gomez
Ultimately she points out that it’s becoming increasingly evident how New York City's allure for those with low income is fading, "It's sad because people with low income cannot afford to live in the city, if they are, it's because they've lived here for many years like myself," said Gomez.