1995 Tenant Income and Affordability Study


In the late 1980's and early 1990's, employment in New York City plummeted as both large and small firms reduced payrolls to remain solvent in the wake of a deep national recession. Last year witnessed a break in this trend, as surges in output and job creation (as well as shrinkage in the City's labor force) lowered national unemployment to a four year low of 6.5%, and unemployment in the City to 8.2%, as shown in the chart Unemployment in New York Continued to Exceed the National Average in 1994-95. Despite recent fluctuations in interest rates, joblessness continued to decline across the nation during the first quarter of 1995, falling to 5.9% in March. In contrast, unemployment in New York has grown to 8.5% since January, even as the size of City's labor force continued to decline, from 55.4% to 54.4% of the work-aged population.

Although much of last year's drop in unemployment can be ascribed to falling participation in the City's labor force, new jobs were created in New York during 1994. As the chart Employment in NYC Rose During the First Quarter of 1995 details, employment in the City's trade, financial and service sectors grew by 7,000, 10,000 and 30,000 positions respectively in 1994, with overall job growth totalling 30,000 positions. In contrast, employment in New York's blue collar industries and public sector continued to contract. Manufacturing, transportation and construction firms as a group shed a total of 6,000 workers, while 11,000 government jobs in the City were eliminated. Overall, 30,000 jobs were created in the City in 1994.

Preliminary employment figures for the first quarter of 1995 supports the notion that New York is slowly emerging from its long recession. Since January, job growth in the service, financial, wholesale and construction sectors has outpaced the loss of 30,000 "blue collar" and public sector positions, to produce a net gain of 28,000 new jobs in New York.


Without the availability of up-to-date information from New York's Housing and Vacancy Survey (HVS), staff was forced to use less targeted data this year to gauge shifting income patterns among rent stabilized tenants. Specifically, income data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on workers employed in New York City was compared with the findings of the 1991 and 1993 HVS. Because the BLS data covers many people who commute from suburbs to work in the City, and only measures wage income, as opposed to total income as reported in the HVS, comparisons between the two data sources must be treated with some caution.

According to BLS figures, the average income for all workers holding jobs in New York rose slightly between 1992 and 1993, from $39,787 to $40,348. In terms of "real" inflation-adjusted dollars, this represented a decrease of 1.6%, with wages in the private sector falling by an average of 1.9% while those of public employees rose by 0.3%. Inflation hit workers in New York's manufacturing, transportation and wholesale industries particularly hard - "real" wages in each of these sectors declined by 3% between 1992 and 1993. (See chart The Real Income of Workers Employed in NYC Dropped Between 1992 and 1993)

The relevance of the data cited above to New York's rent stabilized tenants can be gauged by comparing real income growth in the HVS with that measured by the BLS numbers. Since the HVS is usually produced tri-annually, the most recent time period suitable for comparison is from 1990 to 1992. During this time, the HVS measured a 6% erosion of "real" income (from $32,999 to $31,111 in inflation- adjusted dollars) for all residents of New York City. On the other hand, the average "real" wage income for workers with jobs in New York tracked by the BLS grew by nearly 7% (from $32,408 to $34,631) over the same period. The fact that a large proportion of the upper echelons of New York's white collar workforce live in the suburbs probably accounts for most of the "gap" observed between the two data sources. This is particularly true of employment in New York's financial sector, where average "real" wages rose by nearly 25% between 1991 and 1992 and fell by only 1% (as opposed to 1.5% for all City's workers) between 1992 and 1993. If rent stabilized tenants are more likely to be employed in "blue collar" jobs or mid-level "white collar" positions, where real income declines have been larger than average, then it is probable that their inflation-adjusted incomes fell by more than the average 1.5% decline measured by the BLS between 1992 and 1993.

Even as the average "real" household income of rent stabilized households declined in recent years, rents have continued to rise. According to Income & Expense forms filed by property owners in 1994, rent collected from stabilized apartments rose an average of 0.8% more than inflation from 1992 to 1993. From 1991 to 1993, the mean average inflation adjusted contract rent for stabilized units analyzed in the HVS increased by 0.3%. Thus, it seems the decline of "real" incomes among both workers in New York as well as stabilized tenants in the face of stable "real" contract rents have made stabilized housing more expensive. As last year's study described in detail, lower income stabilized households bore the brunt of increased housing costs in New York from 1991 to 1993.

Declining incomes and increasing rents have forced the median contract rent-to-income ratio for stabilized units to grow significantly, from 26% in 1991 to 28% in 1993.

Low Income Renters

The decline of New York's industrial base has reduced the number of unskilled jobs which have traditionally provided the City's low income households a route out of poverty. Because most of these jobs are being replaced by lower paying service positions or skilled jobs in the financial sector, it seems logical to assume that New York's low-income households are being disproportionately affected by declines in employment and income.

In late 1993, public assistance recipients in New York numbered 1,089,000. One year later, the number of people receiving public assistance grew by 5.4%. Estimates for the first four months of 1995 indicate no substantial change from last year's total. While part of this stability can be traced to a decline in the number of individuals with tuberculosis and AIDS-related illnesses, most of it probably stems from improved economic conditions.

Since 1993, the number of families housed in temporary shelters has remained fairly stable. About 5700 families were housed in temporary City facilities at the end of 1993. In 1994, this figure fell to 5599 families, but has rebounded slightly to 5620 families during the first quarter of 1995.

During its first year in office, the Giuliani administration sought to adopt a more proactive approach towards alleviating homelessness. Judging from the 3,406 families placed in permenant homes through Emergency Assistance Rehousing Program during the 1994 Fiscal Year (a 53% increase over the number helped during the previous year), it seems the Human Resources Administration (HRA) successfully implemented this policy. Unfortunately, budget constraints probably will not allow this level of effort to continue into the future. According to the latest Mayor's Management Report, relocation is expected to fall to 2700 families in both Fiscal 1995 and Fiscal 1996.

See The Number of Public Assistance Recipients Stabilized During the First Quarter of 1995

Housing Court Actions and Evictions

Economic doldrums have traditionally boosted the caseload of the New York City Housing Court as well as the number of residential evictions undertaken in the City. During the last recession, the number of non-payment and eviction cases filed and heard before municipal courts remained stable, while the number of evictions carried out by City marshals declined in the late 80's, only to rebound in recent years.

As shown in the chart Both Filings and Intakes Into NYC Housing Courts Remained Stable in 1994..., non-payment filings have remained flat in recent years, falling slightly to 294,000 in 1994 from 295,000 in 1993. On the other hand, case intakes, (reflecting non-payment actions noticed for trial less restorations), had risen for the past six years, from a low of 77,000 in 1987 to 124,000 in 1993. Over the last year, this number declined slightly to 122,500, perhaps indicating that improved economic conditions have made it slightly easier for tenants to resolve non-payment actions prior to court appearances. Despite this trend, as shown in the chart But the Number of Possessions and Evictions Carried Out Rose in 1994, the number of evictions rose to 24,000 in 1993, a significant (9.6%) increase from the 21,900 carried out in 1993.