New York City sees tightest rental market in more than five decades

NEW YORK — New York City’s housing market is the tightest it’s been in more than five decades, with just 1.4 percent of rental apartments vacant and available, a new survey found.

The citywide vacancy rate stands at its lowest since 1968, qualifying as a certified “housing emergency.” The report offers a striking illustration of the shortage: Residential construction has failed to keep pace with demand and low-cost homes in particular have become exceedingly scarce, threatening the ability of financially struggling residents to live in the nation’s largest city, according to the findings from the city’s housing agency.

As a result, lower-income New Yorkers are spending more of their paychecks on rent. Among households earning less than $25,000 per year without rental assistance, 86 percent were severely rent-burdened — defined as paying more than half of one’s income on rent. The survey also found an “alarming increase” in missed payments and arrears.

The mandated Housing and Vacancy Survey, conducted roughly every three years, was based on data from the first six months of last year. The most recent one that was conducted between February and July 2021 recorded the rental vacancy rate at 4.54 percent — a higher figure owed to residents fleeing during Covid.

The survey comes as the administration of Mayor Eric Adams pushes for a suite of proposals in Albany to ramp up residential development — chief among them reviving a tax break that expired two years ago and is considered essential to multi-family development.

“The data is clear: The demand to live in our city is far outpacing our ability to build housing. New Yorkers need our help, and they need it now,” Adams said in a prepared statement. “While our administration continues to create a record number of affordable homes and helps more New Yorkers move into these homes than the city ever has before, we need more tools to house our neighbors, protect tenants and deliver the affordability New Yorkers deserve.”

“I am calling on all levels of government to help us meet this moment and ensure New York City remains a viable home for working-class New Yorkers,” he continued.

Real estate industry reports surveying the city’s rental market routinely document record prices as a result of the supply shortage. The median monthly rent in January was $4,150 in Manhattan and $3,500 in Brooklyn — a borough once considered more affordable — according to a report from brokerage Douglas Elliman and real estate analyst Jonathan Miller.

And as rents drop, apartments become less available, according to the city’s survey. The vacancy rate for apartments renting for less than $2,400 was under 1 percent; for apartments renting below $1,100, it was just 0.39 percent.

But even units renting above $2,400 per month were relatively scarce — with a vacancy rate of 3.39 percent, according to the survey, which the city has conducted with the Census Bureau since 1965. A citywide vacancy rate under 5 percent qualifies as a “housing emergency.”

The city’s net housing stock grew by 60,000 units, or 2 percent, between 2021 and 2023, according to the survey. But that growth was far from sufficient to absorb 275,000 new households over that period.

The city put out only a portion of the findings on Thursday, ahead of a pending full release.