How the Other Half Lives: The Case of Rent in Queens

Apartment buildings in Queens, New York.

Tenzin Tseyang

Apartment buildings in Queens, New York.

Across New York City, rents continue to rise each year. Over the course of the last 50 years, New York City has seen the cost of renting increase dramatically. Queens is quickly becoming one of the more expensive boroughs to live in. Even neighborhoods that were considered affordable by New York standards are seeing sharp increases in rent prices that are forcing residents to move elsewhere. Because of the rising costs in New York City, many longtime residents and newcomers alike are having difficulty living in New York, and it is an issue with a background rooted in both laws and changing demographics.

In AM New York Ivan Periera and Jason Shaltiel reported that the median rents in Astoria, Morningside Heights, rose by at least 76% in the last five years. If the rents keep increasing at this pace over the next five years they would surpass the median rents of Manhattan. In this report, Shaltiel and Pereira remind us that many Queens neighborhoods were once very affordable and home to middle-class or lower middle-class families.

According to Merriam-Webster, gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents. In other words, when an area is gentrified, older buildings are rebuilt, and because the value of the homes or properties increases, rent also increases, forcing residents who cannot afford the increased prices to move to new areas. As Manhattan prices continue to rise, many businesses, residents, and homeowners are moving to the other boroughs, including Queens, to find more affordable places to live or work. Due to migration of these people between boroughs, there is an increased demand for places to live. With more demand comes a higher price.

For many residents in New York City, rent control allows them to continue to live in New York. Letitia James, in her article “Why We Need a Rent Freeze in New York City,” says many residents who have contributed to their communities are being forced to move elsewhere, a practice that she feels is unfair. To help support the communities and the residents who help build them, Letitia James suggests that a rent freeze should be put in place in order to help residents stay in their communities. Still, despite the suggestions of many journalists, the state laws make the problem difficult to fix. According to the article “Cuomo’s Albany Is Pricing Us all Out Of NYC,” Governor Cuomo slightly reduced the rent increase, which caused many people to move to cheaper areas. Many residents and politicians are concerned because of potential corruption, as stated by the Gothamist.

When New York last tried rent decontrol in 1971, Metropolitan Council of Housing revealed that vacancy decontrol had lead to an increase of over 52 percent in rent while the costs of operating lands had only increased by 7.9 percent. In other words, the price of taking care of an apartment or home did not increase at the same rate as rent, causing huge hardships for people living in downstate during that time. Hence, it is clearly shown that vacancy decontrol would only help landlords and would not help to create affordable housing.

It is not just the local issues of rent control and gentrification that are causing rents to increase in New York. National bank practices are also contributing to the issue. Writing for the New York Daily News, Katherine Clarke, in her article “It’s now more expensive to rent in Queens than in Brooklyn: report,” writes that, “The across-the-board rise in New York City rents comes as first-time homebuyers continue to struggle to meet mortgage lending requirements, sending wannabe buyers back into the rental market and putting upward pressure on rents” (Clarke). In other words, because of the high requirements to receive a mortgage loan, many people who would like to purchase a home are forced to continue to rent apartments.

The blog “Managerial Econ” written by Luke Froeb gives evidence to support the idea of more renters than homeowners. According to Froeb, New York renters have increased from 60% to 64% between 2006 and 2013. Put simply, the number of homeowners has decreased while the number of renters has increased. Froeb writes that “If price and quantity both increase, it has to be an increase in demand.” Because there are so many people that want to rent apartments in New York, it is not surprising that the cost of rent and the number of apartments both increase. Even many Twitter users, including some celebrities from Broadway shows, have said that they could not afford luxurious apartments. Many also tweeted that rent is too high in New York and that they were considering moving to other states because of the rent and the slow growth of the New York economy.

Looking back, the population of New York City has grown and changed a lot that the boroughs and neighborhoods have also continued to change. Because of gentrification, many neighborhoods, such as Williamsburg, Sunnyside, and Long Island City are difficult to recognize today. Many areas that were once considered middle class or lower class have become much more expensive to live in as residents of Manhattan look for cheaper housing. What is cheaper for Manhattan residents is not cheap for Queens residents, so many long-time residents are forced to go elsewhere. In addition to local political issues such as decontrol or gentrification, the state economy, national economy, and banks all contribute to the problem of increasing rents in Queens.

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