Housing in New York after the pandemic: almost impossible mission for tenants

Renting a place in New York has always been a combat sport. But since the end of the pandemic, it has been an almost impossible mission for many tenants faced with an unprecedented price hike.

In the spring, when leases are being renegotiated, Paula Sevilla, a young Spanish woman, and her roommates were given an $800-a-month raise to stay in their shared Brooklyn apartment, the biggest and trendiest in the city. five boroughs of New York.

They then begin a frantic search for a new home: after two months of visits – often windowless accommodation, bordering on unsanitary – long queues and ever-increasing applications demanding, they are selected for a three-room apartment for 3,000 dollars a month.

“It happened to us to” lose “an apartment for having applied … four minutes too late”, tells AFP the 26-year-old Spaniard, New Yorker by adoption.

On a purchase market almost inaccessible to the middle classes, finding the rare pearl to rent has always been a challenge in this mythical city, a global economic and cultural magnet but with glaring socio-economic inequalities.

After a small lull in 2021, at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic which had brought the megalopolis to its knees and forced tens of thousands of families to flee, rental prices jumped over one year by 20.4% in second quarter this year, according to real estate site StreetEasy.

The owners — sometimes investment funds hidden behind real estate agents and other “brokers” — demand an annual salary representing 40 times the monthly rent, no debt, bank statements and almost perfect tax forms.

Paula Sevilla earns $75,000 a year, slightly above the median salary in New York. But not enough to rent alone. Tenants also sometimes have to pay commissions to agents, representing one month’s rent, or even 15% of the annual cost.

We must add an inflationary economic context, the poor construction quality of buildings in terms of thermal and sound insulation, particularly in Brooklyn and Queens, and a chronic shortage of new housing in a megalopolis of 8.5 million souls. . There were 340,000 missing in 2019 for the entire New York agglomeration, according to the Washington research center Up For Growth.

“Too many customers and not enough apartments”

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

The municipality of New York – a city that leans to the left – has imposed “stabilized” rents for one million housing units and two million tenants.

But the prices, which depend on a vote of the city council with a Democratic majority, are not blocked.

Under the very left mayor Bill de Blasio (2014-2021), “stabilized” rents have only increased by 1.5% over one year. Under his successor on the right wing of the Democratic Party, the African-American former police officer Eric Adams, prices are soaring as they have not for at least ten years (from +3.5% to +5% in June on a year).

In Manhattan, a family devotes 55% of its income to housing. The rate reaches 60% in Brooklyn and 43% in popular Queens, according to data from StreetEasy, which denounces “a staggering financial burden”.

The island of Manhattan, financial lung of the United States, offers small apartments for 5000 dollars per month on average, explains to AFP Gea Elika, real estate agent. There are also giant duplexes with terraces around Central Park on the famous 5th Avenue offered at… 140,000 dollars per month.

Enough to push the middle classes and the younger generations towards more disadvantaged neighborhoods where African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities live, fueling gentrification.

And the outlook is bleak: the “skyline” of Manhattan, which changes almost visibly, concentrates the construction of office skyscrapers and luxury apartments. And despite building sites in Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey across the Hudson River, no one expects prices to slow.

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