Jimmy McMillan's plans to run for mayor in 2013 just got a nice boost from one of his opponents, Comptroller John Liu. Today Liu released a report, [PDF] called "Rents Through The Roof!," which might as well been named after McMillan's famous catchphrase: "The Rent Is Too Damn High." Because seriously? The rent here is too damn high. And there are stats to prove it.
As Liu's team points out, as far as the Federal government is concerned rent is unaffordable when it costs more than 30 percent of a household's income. And yet here in the Big Apple, 44 percent of middle-income earners pay unaffordable rents and 30 percent of New Yorkers spend more than half of their income on rent. And things have been getting worse as median rents have gone up and median incomes have not. For example, in 1990 the median income in the city was $51,865 and the median rent was $779. Twenty years later the median income had dropped to $50,866 but the median rent had jumped to $1,004.
Or, put another way, in 2000 23 percent of rental units in town were unaffordable to median-income households, but that figure jumped to 38 percent by 2010. And it is even bad in Queens and Staten Island, often safe from these things for middle class. Fully 44 percent of middle-income earners in those boroughs pay unaffordable rents:
So what to do? That is a very tricky issue. The problem is that people are willing to spend massive amounts of their income to live in New York City and so they do—which can make it hard to build policy. Further, existing housing policy generally is (quite understandably) more geared to helping low-income earners rather than middle and high-income earners (seven percent of people making more than $75,000 in the city are paying unaffordable rents!). Even Liu's team doesn't presume to know what to do—though they have some ideas—saying the issue needs to be the subject of further research. What do you think?