How do people really live in NYC?

CHPC first launched the “Making Room” project in 2007 with the release of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC. This long-term sustainability plan predicted that New York City will have to make room for a million more people by 2030. So the research question to begin with was simple – How can the City’s housing inventory accommodate one million more New Yorkers? In response, CHPC developed its own unique methodology for categorizing today’s New York City households, so that a detailed picture of how New Yorkers really live today could be seen. This new methodology was essential because traditional housing data analysis often equates household with family, obfuscating the real needs of households from the view of the policymakers.

Using CHPC’s methodology and the results of the 2009 American Community Survey, the data reveals a divided New York City, but one united by non-traditional households. On one side, over 33% of all housing units in New York City are inhabited by a single person living alone. Due to the nature of New York City’s housing stock, a third of these single person households live in units large enough to accommodate a family (larger than a one bedroom unit). On the other side, 26% of all households are sharing their home with an additional adult or family. This means that approximately 2 million New Yorkers are either living with adult relatives (over 25 years old) or with people they are unrelated to. Over half of those sharing households have a head of household that was born outside of the United States. Only 17% of all New York City homes contain a single nuclear family, defined as two parents or guardians living with children under 25 years old.

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It is clear that this predominance of housing demand by non-nuclear families, who are seeking shelter in a housing stock largely not intended for their use, is distorting the housing market as a whole. Single people are living in housing that is designed for families, and therefore are either under-occupying the home or sharing the space and the rent with other single adults or families. This can create unsafe and illegal conditions which are so widespread that basic housing regulations, especially fire safety and overcrowding, become unenforceable. These trends will only be exacerbated with an extra million people arriving in the city over the next two decades (note that the City revised this number to 900,000 after factoring in the impact of the latest recession). Without a significant change in the housing inventory, and the regulatory framework that shapes it, the needs of the newest New Yorkers will be unmet into the future.