Housing Takes Bigger Bite of New Yorkers’ Incomes, Census Data Shows

by Manny Fernandez

The burden of housing costs continues to stretch the pocketbooks of New Yorkers, as large percentages of residents see more of their income go to their mortgages and rents, according to an analysis of new census data.

Across the city, homeowners in Brooklyn and renters in the Bronx are carrying the heaviest burdens, with many spending half or more of their monthly paychecks on housing.

In Brooklyn, 31 percent of homeowners with a mortgage are spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing costs, the highest percentage in any large county in the state. In the Bronx, 32.9 percent of renter households are paying a similar share of their income for their apartments, the highest percentage in the city, according to an analysis of the Census Bureau‘s 2006 American Community Survey, which was released to the public yesterday.

Zulma Solorzano, a 32-year-old single mother, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx with her 8-year-old daughter, Elisa Castro. She figures she spends 57 percent of her income on rent, earning $645 every two weeks as a part-time public school teacher and paying $790 for rent.

Her life has become a series of small sacrifices. She used to spend $60 a week on groceries, but now she spends $40. She recently had to get a second job, working as a sales clerk at the Gap. She would like to go back to school to get a master’s degree, but cannot afford the tuition. She wanted to become more active in her neighborhood by working with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, but never has the time. About two weeks ago, she cut off her cable television service.

“It was hard to say to a little kid, ‘I cannot afford it anymore,’ ” Ms. Solorzano said, adding: “It’s really frustrating. I’ve been struggling for a long time.”

The latest data, when compared with census results from 2005, illustrates the speed with which New York City housing is becoming increasingly expensive.

Ismene Speliotis, executive director of New York Acorn Housing, a nonprofit housing organization, and other advocates for low- and moderate-income housing said several factors were putting the squeeze on homeowners and renters.

Stagnant incomes have not kept pace with rising rents. Gentrification and the rapid loss of subsidized rental housing have also pushed housing costs up for low- and moderate-income families, housing experts said. At the same time, the proliferation of low-interest and risky subprime mortgages, while increasing homeownership numbers, has led to more foreclosure filings in the city.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in defaults and foreclosures in Brooklyn, in East New York, East Flatbush,” Ms. Speliotis said.

In 2006, 26.4 percent of homeowners with a mortgage in the city paid half or more of their income on housing, up from 25.4 percent in 2005, according to the analysis conducted by Queens College demographers for The New York Times. About 49.8 percent of homeowners with a mortgage in the city were paying 30 percent or more of their income on housing, a level commonly viewed as a limit of affordability, compared with 48.8 percent in 2005.

In Brooklyn, 55.3 percent of homeowners in 2006 paid 30 percent or more of their income on housing. Homeowners there had the second-highest median monthly costs in the city, at $2,194. Those in Manhattan had the highest, with $2,758.

For many poor and low-income renters driven out of Upper Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens by rising rents, the Bronx has become a last refuge. The borough has the cheapest median gross rent in the city, at $826 a month.

“Lower-income people being squeezed out of other parts of the city are moving to the only place they can still afford,” said Gregory Lobo Jost, deputy director of the nonprofit University Neighborhood Housing Program.

Even with the cheapest rents, the Bronx is the only borough in which the people moving in make less than the people already living there, the group found in a report released earlier this year.

The new census figures echo the research many community groups have already done on New Yorkers’ housing burdens. A study by the Community Service Society of New York found that the city’s low-income families, after spending much of their income on rent, are left with only $32 a week per family member.

“It’s disappointing but not surprising that in 2006 these trends are continuing,” said Julie Miles, executive director of Housing Here and Now, a coalition of housing advocates and community groups. “Families constantly are having to choose between essentials, between food costs and health care costs and energy costs, and housing.”

The city’s median gross rent climbed to $945 a month, up from $909 in 2005. Manhattan remains the most expensive borough for renters, with the median rent at $1,081, according to the census data. Renters in the city spending at least half their income on housing remained unchanged from 2005 to 2006, at 27.9 percent.

The burden of housing costs, though high in New York City, is by no means the highest in the country.

In Lawrence, Mass., 42.1 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were spending 50 percent or more of their income on housing, the highest percentage among cities in the country with more than 65,000 people, according to the analysis. In Newark, that figure is 34.7 percent, far higher than New York City’s 26.4 percent.

Victorville, Calif., had the highest percentage of renters paying at least half their income on housing among cities with more than 65,000 people, at 48 percent. Close behind was Muncie, Ind., at 47.9 percent.