“The Rent is Too Damn High”


We’ve all been told that “the rent is too damn high,” but just how high is it? Looking at rent amounts themselves can be deceiving: while rents are largely sky-high in the Upper East Side or Tribeca, so are household incomes.

Our resident data scientist Sandy Nader asked a different question: How much are people paying in rent relative to their incomes? This is a more accurate measure of rent burdens. In particular, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development notes that the “generally accepted definition of affordability is for a household to pay no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing.” Moreover, organizations working with the poor and homeless often call households “rent-burdened” if they are spending more than thirty percent of their monthly incomes on rent.

Nader mapped the median gross rent as a percentage of household incomes in every zip code in New York City, using data from the American Community Survey and the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. Then she added in the location of rent-stabilized buildings. The map that emerges tells a different story than the conventional one: Manhattan and “Brownstone Brooklyn” may have the highest rents, but it has the many of the lowest rent burdens in the city: in Tribeca, for example, the rent burden is only 18.8%. (Single-click on a neighborhood to bring up its data.)

Where is the rent really too damn high? The outer boroughs, especially those neighborhoods with little or no gentrification, with rent burdens even exceeding 40% in parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. And the effect of rent stabilization may be neutral, at least on this measure: thick clusters of rent-stabilized buildings are scattered throughout the city, in neighborhoods with rent burdens high as well as low. Perhaps the solution is not holding down rents but enacting further increases to the minimum wage—then permanently pegging it to inflation. But for now, if anyone was looking for a map of mayor-elect Bill de Blasio’s “Tale of Two Cities,” this might be it.

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Map by Sandy Nader
The source code for this map has been posted on Github for any aspiring mapmakers to reference.

Sandy NaderSandy Nader is the resident data scientist for The Brooklyn Quarterly. She received her M.A. in Applied Statistics from Columbia University.

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