New Yorkers Compound Housing Crisis with Apartment Combining: Proposed Solutions
New York City’s housing dynamics are undergoing a significant transformation, and the consequences are multifaceted. In a recent 2023 analysis of building records, Columbia University revealed that approximately 50,000 multi-family row houses in the city have been converted into one- or two-family homes since 1950. While this might seem like a practical way to create more living space, it’s exacerbating New York’s longstanding housing shortage.
Historic preservationist Adam Brodheim, who conducted this research, emphasizes that while expanding living quarters for growing families is understandable, the collective impact of such actions on New York City’s housing crisis is noteworthy. With a population exceeding 8 million, NYC has long grappled with insufficient housing options, further intensified by this trend.
While some New Yorkers have opted to leave in search of more affordable and spacious dwellings, wealthier residents are investing heavily in these consolidations. For example, Timon Malloy, a commercial real estate professional, purchased the apartment below his Upper West Side residence, connecting the two floors with a staircase, spending millions on renovations.
However, these upscale housing endeavors are contributing to skyrocketing living costs, making it increasingly difficult for many households to secure or maintain a place in the city. With median home prices around $765,000 in NYC, well above the national average, and monthly rents averaging approximately $3,500, housing affordability remains a significant challenge.
Historically, NYC managed its growing population by dividing homes into multiple units, a strategy that changed in later years. The conversion of row houses into single-family homes and the consolidation of adjacent apartments into more extensive units have led to the loss of thousands of housing units, particularly in historic and affluent neighborhoods.
These consolidation projects disproportionately affect historic districts, white neighborhoods, and wealthy areas. Adam Brodheim argues that New York City lacks the necessary rules and regulations to mitigate the negative impact of dwelling consolidation on the housing crisis.
To address this issue, Brodheim suggests emulating cities like Chicago and Portland, which have implemented policies to regulate unit consolidation. For instance, Chicago passed zoning ordinances to prevent the conversion of multi-family properties into single-family homes and the construction of single-family homes in areas grappling with rising housing costs and displacement.
Additionally, Brodheim advocates for the introduction of a dwelling unit consolidation fee, directing funds towards income-restricted affordable housing, particularly in wealthier neighborhoods where most conversions occur. In recent developments, Mayor Eric Adams proposed reforms aimed at creating up to 100,000 additional homes in the coming years, with a focus on affordable and energy-efficient housing.
While these changes are still pending approval, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation supporting affordable and energy-efficient housing projects, which includes tax incentives for construction and more down payment assistance for homebuyers. The ongoing struggle to find a balance between creating comfortable living spaces and alleviating New York City’s housing crisis remains a pressing concern for both policymakers and residents alike.