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New York City Apartments Are Getting Even More Crowded

Residents are packed like sardines, a new report by the city comptroller’s office says.

Flickr/Wally Gobetz

Apartment overcrowding both stems from and feeds into New York City’s affordable housing crisis, according to a new report by the city comptroller’s office. The report finds an alarming rise in the share of overcrowded housing units from 2005 to 2013.

Here’s Comptroller Scott M. Stringer on the implications of this finding, via a press release:  

“Studies make it clear that crowding hurts the whole family,” commented Comptroller Stringer. “It makes it harder for kids to learn and puts the entire family at a greater risk of homelessness. This new report shows that the problem of crowding is stubbornly increasing, with nearly 1.5 million New Yorkers now living in a crowded or severely crowded home.”

According to Stringer’s report, the percentage of apartments with more than one person to each habitable room (excluding kitchens, bathrooms, and other unlivable sections of a house) has increased from 7.6 percent in 2005 to 8.8 percent in 2013, a relative rise of nearly 16 percent. The share of apartments that are “severely crowded”—with a person-to-room ratio of 1.5: 1—has gone up even more drastically, by almost 45 percent during this period.

Here’s the chart showing this increase, via the report:

NYC Comptroller’s Office

The share of extremely crowded studios has skyrocketed

The report considers studio apartments with two occupants as crowded, and includes these in the overall count of crowded units in the city. But it also measures a dramatic increase in studios with three or more occupants. In 2005, only 2.9 percent of the city’s studios housed more than two people; by 2013, this share had increased to 13.5 percent—a colossal 365 percent increase.

Overcrowding is a particular concern in the Bronx and Brooklyn

Every New York City borough except Staten Island saw a rise in crowding. In absolute numbers, Brooklyn had a 35 percent increase in crowded units from 2005 to 2013—the most of any borough. Here’s a chart showing the increase in such units by borough, from 2005 to 2013:   

The Bronx was home to the largest share of crowded units in 2013 (12.4 percent of all housing units in the borough). Brooklyn was close behind at 10.3 percent, and also experienced the biggest change in its share of such units. Another chart shows these figures for each borough, between 2005 and 2013:

When it comes to severe crowding, every single borough saw a rise. Brooklyn and the Bronx, however, were the only ones where the share of crowded units (3.4 percent and an unnerving 5.8 percent, respectively) were higher than the city average (3.3 percent). Here’s a chart of each borough’s total severely crowded units from 2005 to 2013:

Crowded households are disproportionately immigrant-led

An overwhelming 70 percent of crowded households were headed by immigrants, the report finds. A majority of these were families with at least one member under the age of 18.

But it’s not just a low-income problem

You’d think that only low-income families would be stuffed like sardines in New York’s claustrophobic apartments, but that’s changing. While around 24 percent of crowded households self-identified in the bottom 25 percentile of income, 19 percent were in the top 25th percentile.

The average household income for people living in these crowded households increased by 2.7 percent between 2005 and 2013; the median rent, meanwhile, increased 12.8 percent. In other words, the rise in rents far outpaced the rise in income among people who live in crowded conditions. Here’s how the report puts it:

This suggests that the affordability of the City’s rental housing stock may have played a role in boosting crowding.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.