Housing in New York after the pandemic: Nearly impossible mission for renters

Housing in New York after the pandemic: Nearly impossible mission for renters

Renting an apartment in New York has always been a martial art. But since the end of the pandemic, it’s an almost impossible mission for many renters faced with an unprecedented surge in prices.

In the spring, when the leases are being renegotiated, Paula Sevilla, a young Spaniard, and her roommates were given an $800 monthly raise to stay in their Brooklyn apartment, the largest and trendiest in town.

Then they begin the frantic search for a new home: After two months of inspection – often windowless living space bordering on the unsanitary – long queues and increasing numbers of applications, they are selected for a three-bedroom apartment for $3,000 a month.

“It happened to us that we lost an apartment because we applied four minutes late,” the 26-year-old Spaniard, New Yorker through adoption, tells AFP.

In a shopping market almost inaccessible to the middle class, finding that rare pearl to rent has always been a challenge in this mythical city, a global economic and cultural magnet but with glaring socio-economic disparities.

After a bit of a lull in 2021, at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the megalopolis to its knees and forced tens of thousands of families to flee, rental prices rose 20.4% in the second quarter of this year, according to real estate portal StreetEasy.

The owners, sometimes hidden behind real estate agents and other “brokers,” as mutual funds, demand an annual salary of 40 times the monthly rent, no debt, bank statements, and near-perfect tax forms.

Paula Sevilla earns $75,000 a year, slightly more than the average salary in New York. But not enough to rent alone. Tenants also sometimes have to pay commissions to brokers, which can be a month’s rent or even 15% of the annual cost.

Add to this an inflationary economic context, poor construction quality of buildings in terms of thermal and acoustic insulation, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens, and a chronic shortage of new housing in a megalopolis of 8.5 million people. . According to the Washington-based research center Up For Growth, there were 340,000 missing people in the entire New York metropolitan area in 2019.

“Too many customers and not enough apartments”

There are “too many customers and not enough apartments,” summarizes real estate agent Miguel Urbina simply.

The City of New York — a left-leaning city — has pushed through “stabilized” rents for one million housing units and two million tenants.

But the prices, which depend on a vote by the city council with a democratic majority, will not be blocked.

Under the far-left Mayor Bill de Blasio (2014-2021), “stabilized” rents have increased by just 1.5% in one year. Under his successor on the right wing of the Democratic Party, African-American ex-cop Eric Adams, prices have risen at least for a decade (from +3.5% to +5% in June yoy).

In Manhattan, a family spends 55% of their income on housing. The rate hits 60% in Brooklyn and 43% in popular Queens, according to data from StreetEasy, which denounces “an astounding financial drain.”

Manhattan Island, America’s financial lung, offers small apartments for an average of $5,000 a month, real estate agent Gea Elika told AFP. There are also huge maisonettes with terraces around Central Park on the famous 5th Avenue that go for…$140,000 a month.

Enough to push the middle class and younger generations into more disadvantaged neighborhoods populated by African American, Hispanic and Asian communities, driving gentrification.

And the prospects are bleak: the almost visibly changing Manhattan “skyline” is concentrating on the construction of high-rise office buildings and luxury apartments. And despite construction in Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey across the Hudson River, no one expects prices to slow.