The Bronx is leading the boroughs in Coronavirus deaths. It also faces the most housing code violations and evictions and hosts a growing number of rent-burdened tenants, according to an index of housing vulnerability around the city.
The Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD) report found severe overcrowding and the highest number of people uninsured in Queens neighborhoods Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Corona, where COVID-19 rates were the highest during the height of the epidemic.
The report amalgamates health data from recent months and housing indicators spanning 2017 to 2019. It doesn’t show the impact of COVID-19, but rather the overlap between the pandemic’s toll and underlying housing vulnerability. It also doesn’t capture the effects of the sweeping reforms to rent regulation passed last year.
In the Bronx, the data found that the borough ranks the highest for COVID-19 impact and related risk factors such as the number of COVID cases and deaths, mortality from conditions that cause high risk alongside COVID and the rate of uninsurance per 1,000 residents. Among the hardest neighborhoods: Williamsbridge/Baychester, which saw 39.5 cases per 1,000 residents, and Morris Park/Bronxdale, which suffered 3.6 deaths per 1,000 residents.
South Bronx neighborhoods also had the city’s highest percentages of service workers: In Mott Haven, Melrose, Hunts Point and Longwood, more than 46 percent of workers are in the service industry–which was especially vulnerable to the disease. Meanwhile, Mott Haven/Melrose, Hunts Points/Longwood, Morrisania/Crotona, Highbridge/South Concourse, University Heights/Fordham, Belmont/East Tremont, Kingsbridge Heights/Bedford and Wiliiamsbridge/Baychester have consistently ranked the highest for evictions, rent burden, serious housing violations, and percent increase in residential sales prices in the entire city. The areas are overwhelmingly populated by people of color.
In Highbridge and South Concourse 4.9 tenants per 1,000 tenants faced eviction in 2019 and there were 182.4 serious housing violations per 1,000 units — a 70 percent increase in housing code violations — and both areas also saw a 45.5 percent increase in residential sales. In the neighboring area, Morrisania and Crotona saw a 108.4 percent increase in sale prices. ANHD says the data suggests, “Bronx tenants are facing dire housing conditions and struggling to pay rent while simultaneously being displaced by increasing prices and gentrification.”
In Brooklyn, Bedford Stuyvesant , East New York, Brownsville and East Flatbush showed the greatest housing risk in Brooklyn, a borough that has less dispersion of rent-stabilized housing units when compared with Manhattan.
However, there was some good news: Housing code violations dropped significantly across Brooklyn with the exception of South Crown Heights, Flatbush/Midwood, and East Flatbush neighborhoods.
East New York, where a city-initiated rezoning took place in 2016, saw 3.5 people per 1,000 residents evicted last year. The district also saw 240 foreclosure filings; non-bank lenders provided 60.7 percent of small home loans. East Flatbush saw 3.6 evictions per 1,000 residents, 213 foreclosure filings and 217.7 serious housing code violations per 1,000 units.
In Manhattan, Central and East Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood also ranked in the top 20 areas for overall risks. Those neighborhoods also hosted hot housing markets. There was a 57.2 percent increase in residential sales in Central Harlem between 2017 and 2019, and East Harlem saw a 46.4 percent increase in residential sales. East Harlem was rezoned by the city in 2017. Central and East Harlem saw 2.6 and 2.5 evictions per 1,000 residents, respectively.
Although there was a drop in housing code violations in Morningside Heights and Central Harlem, more northern Manhattan neighborhoods–like Washington Heights and Inwood, which has the most rent-stabilized units in the city — saw 427 litigations filed against landlords and 144.2 serious housing violations per 1,000 units.
In Queens, ANHD said severe overcrowding (more than 1.5 occupants per room) was a persistent problem last year. In Elmhurst and Corona — prominent COVID hotspots — overcrowding worsened.
Lucy Block, the Research and Policy Associate at ANHD, said the connection between crowding and COVID-19 risk was not simple.
“I don’t think it’s just overcrowding because if you have six people living in a two-bedroom apartment, but none of them need to leave the house, you can stay safe from COVID, but if you have six people in a two bedroom apartment and two or three of those people need to be going out and working, if they worked in restaurants that are still open, if they work in transit, any of the essential services, then it’s just near impossible to keep out of the household,” Block says.
“And there’s just this convergence of factors that you have overcrowding, because that’s how many, many people deal with increasing housing prices–by doubling up and having many families within the same apartment,” Block adds. That many of those same families have one or more workers in the informal economy, with few protections and a lot of exposure to the virus, amplifies the risks.
Indeed, Elmhurst and Corona also displayed severe economic strains: 64.2 percent of tenants rent-burdened, meaning they pay 30 percent or more of their salary toward their rent. In the neighboring Jackson Heights community, 9.1 percent of households were found to be severely overcrowded and 61.1 percent were found to be rent burdened.
But a couple miles away, Ridgewood and Maspeth saw large drops in housing code violations.
Block says there is no simple explanation for why there has been an increase in housing code violations in some areas and decreases in others. A clearer picture might emerge next year, when there is more information on how the new rent laws may have impacted housing in the city.
In Staten Island, the northernmost district Stapleton and St. George showed the highest risk for both COVID-19 cases – 30.6 per 1,000 residents – and housing trouble in the borough. It showed an eviction rate of 1.9 per 1,000 residents, and a high rate of foreclosure filing (241), while 42.9 percent of district homeowners have non-bank small home loans.