New York City housing: Is this the issue that will win the mayoral race for Bill de Blasio?

Rents are sky-high, while homelessness is back at Great Depression levels

Share
Related Topics

Housing is one of New York City’s greatest problems. As rents have continued to increase - even since the recession started - the city’s poor have found themselves priced out of homes around the city and have to resort to living in homeless shelters.

The Right claim these people are unemployed, that they scrounge benefits, that they don’t contribute to society. But a story in yesterday’s New York Times told how people with jobs - or even two steady jobs - were joining the 50,000 New Yorkers sleeping in a shelter every night. The levels of homelessness are the same as during the Great Depression. This is all set against a backdrop of more people moving into New York than out since the 1950s and sky high rents.

And many of those who do have homes find them in buildings whose conditions more closely resemble Victorian slums than apartment blocks in “the greatest city on Earth.” When people boast of how long the waiting list is for New York public housing, they’re ignoring the fact that many of the buildings are crumbling, badly run and dangerous.

Some private apartment blocks are locally famous for squalor and violence. A police officer described to me how there were “more holes than doors” in the entrance to the roof of one of these blocks in Brooklyn. In a city council meeting in the Bronx, I heard how firefighters left a building after a false alarm swarming with lice and how children in that same building were sick from poisonous lead paint on the walls.

To live in these buildings, people pay through the nose. 32.5 per cent of city residents spend between a third and a half of their income on rent, and a further 31 per cent spend over half their income on housing according to a study by New York University’s Furman Center.

Inèz E. Young, a native Belizean who now lives in a tenement in the Central Bronx wakes up before the sun rises to commute across the city to Brooklyn to work as a nanny. She only just affords to make enough to pay her rent. But despite her hard work, she can hardly feel easy at home.

“It’s not safe,” she said, as she remembered the time when the ceiling in her bathroom collapsed. “I was always telling them that the bathroom ceiling was cracking.”

She showed me the bathroom and gestured above her where a rough paint job barely concealed signs of earlier damage. “I was taking a bath and I see the  little sands coming down. When I look up, it already cracked,” she said. “I just pulled back and the ceiling fell in.”

Downstairs, tenant Deborah Vasquez added that the building was unsafe for her six-year-old daughter because there was still lead-based paint around. She said her daughter tested negative for lead a year ago when they moved in but after about 5 or 6 months, another test a “high volume of lead” in her daughter’s blood.

Young and Vasquez’s building is on democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio’s ‘Worst Landlords’ watchlist, a programme that he initiated in 2010 (he also launched a watchlist for public housing recently). The website allows people to see how many violations have been committed by their landlords (or repairs have not been carried out by the public housing authority).

This is a step in the right direction, as are some of de Blasio’s other efforts on the vital issue of housing in New York City; he introduced a law that was passed to ensure heat and hot water for all tenants in the city and he helped partner attorneys with tenants in housing court. If campaign promises are to believed, a de Blasio City Hall would mean more representation for New York’s poor on housing issues. And it could not come at a better time.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Copywriter - Corporate clients - Wimbledon

£21000 - £23000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Copywriter - London As a Copywrite...

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tiger skin seized from a smuggler by customs officers in Lhasa, Tibet  

Save the tiger: Poaching facts

Harvey Day
 

Save the tiger: 7 saddening facts about the extinction of Javan tigers

Harvey Day
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried