The 17th council district in The Bronx saw 8,550 new affordable units built since 2014, while district 23 in Queens saw just 17. Those dramatic production disparities are fueling New York City’s affordable housing crunch, experts say.
More than 67,250 new affordable apartments were created or financed in New York City from 2014 to 2021, but just 17 were located in Northeast Queens’ Council District 23, which covers communities like Bellerose and Douglaston. In neighboring District 19—Bayside, College Point—there were 47 new affordable units in that time period.
But Northeast Queens isn’t the only corner of the city where new affordable housing production has been nearly non-existent, an analysis published Monday by the organization New York Housing Conference (NYHC) shows. Five other districts accounted for fewer than 100 new affordable units each during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure. And 25 of the city’s 51 Council Districts saw fewer than 500 new units each during that span, according to the report, based on data from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).
South Bronx Council District 17, in contrast, accounted for more than 8,550 new affordable units over that period—the most in the city. Central Brooklyn’s District 42 had the second most, with nearly 5,250 apartments.
Those dramatic production disparities are fueling New York City’s affordable housing crunch, while forcing thousands of residents into homelessness and about a million more into spending a third of their income on rent, said NYHC Executive Director Rachel Fee.
“The clearest take away from our report is straightforward: many neighborhoods are not doing their part,” Fee said at a rally introducing the report and new NYHC housing tracker outside City Hall Monday.
Zoning differences across New York City mean a place like Douglaston, with low-rise development marked by detached single-unit homes, will never match the housing production in a neighborhood like the recently rezoned Jerome Avenue corridor in The Bronx, where high-rise residences tower above the elevated train tracks. But Fee said lower-density neighborhoods have an important, and often unrealized, role in affordable housing production.
“We understand that neighborhoods do not all look the same and we’re not going to just overhaul zoning to have the same amount of density everywhere,” Fee told City Limits. “But every community should be looking at their housing needs and also thinking about what the siting opportunities are and the opportunities for upzoning are.”
Mayor Eric Adams and administration officials have explicitly criticized the lack of affordable housing production in many neighborhoods, citing the need to “ensure all neighborhoods are meeting the need for housing opportunities” in a March economic recovery plan. Adams’ plan includes eliminating parking space requirements for new units, easing the creation of accessory units and tweaking zoning rules to allow for more affordable housing.
“The city will identify strategies to create a wider range of housing types for all New Yorkers, including those with the lowest incomes, in neighborhoods throughout the city, from high-density areas to lower-scale neighborhoods,” the recovery blueprint states.
New York City may get a boost from the federal government to meet those housing goals.
The Biden Administration on Monday introduced a five-year plan to drive affordable housing, through measures like prioritizing federal grants for jurisdictions that have reformed zoning and laws to increase density. Exclusionary zoning that limits new housing development has been used as a tool of de facto racial segregation throughout the New York City Metropolitan Area, particularly in planned suburbs built after World War II.
The lack of affordable housing development has had the biggest impact on New Yorkers considered “very low income,” meaning families of three who earn between $28,020 and $60,050. The broader New York City Metropolitan Area needs about 772,000 apartments priced for very low-income residents to meet the need, NYHC found.
Production has slowed as a result of community opposition, strict zoning rules and downzonings—land use changes that limit housing capacity—pursued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the organization added.
Between 2011 to 2020, just 23 new units were produced for every 1,000 residents in the New York City metro area, according to Department of City Planning records. The rate of production was more than double that in more spacious cities, like Orlando, Houston and Phoenix.
NYHC will continue analyzing new affordable housing construction and updating its tracker regularly. Fee said that she expects a crop of new city councilmembers will embrace opportunities for affordable housing construction.
“They all ran on affordable housing as an issue in their districts,” Fee said. “We know this is what residents want and connecting the dots between the problems and the solutions is going to be the challenge.”
Councilmember Linda Lee, who began representing Council District 23—home to the fewest new units—on Jan. 1, said she welcomes the report’s findings and encourages the creation of more affordable housing citywide.
Still, she added, NYHC’s report “totally ignores” local context when it comes to land use decisions.
“District 23 is one of the only in the city without a rail or subway line, so by placing thousands of new affordable housing units here, working families living in them will have to buy thousands of new cars to get to work and school, with massively negative impacts on the environment and ultimately making these ‘affordable units’ a lot less affordable in reality,” Lee said. “Throughout the years, New York City has rightly looked for places to build affordable housing, but without examining the local infrastructure’s ability to support the increased density, these plans will continue to fail.”
Councilmember Vickie Paladino, who took office Jan. 1 representing District 19—where just 47 new affordable units were built during the report’s study period—declined to comment for this story.
The analysis does not include affordability levels—most apartments built with the 421a tax exemption are priced for people earning well over the city average—and doesn't indicate where the housing has opened to tenants or is still under construction, but other policymakers have hailed the tracker as an important benchmark and source of accountability.
Council Land Use Chair Rafael Salamanca and Housing Chair Pierina Sanchez, both of The Bronx, rallied outside City Hall on Monday to praise the tracker and to urge communities and colleagues to embrace new housing development.
“The South Bronx and my district cannot create all the affordable housing in the city of New York. Our colleagues need to do their fair share,” said Salamanca, whose district features the most development over the past eight years.
“Some of these communities have this NIMBYism, not in my backyard, they don’t want to bring more density into their communities,” Salamanca said.
Sanchez, an urban planner and former de Blasio housing adviser, said the production discrepancies only reinforce segregation and inequities by race and income level.
“When we talk about where we need to build and how we need to build we need to make sure every single community in the city of New York and in this region is contributing to [solving] the affordable housing crisis,” Sanchez said.