ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
It has never been this tough to find a decent place to rent in New York City. Over the past few decades, the city has become safer, richer and a lot more crowded. As NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, just 3 percent of apartments are vacant.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: This is 57th Street in Manhattan. It used to be known mainly for office space and retail stores, but now there are several slender new condo towers going up, some of them 80 or 90 stories high. All over Manhattan these days, you can see apartment buildings going up. And yet, it's never been harder to find a place to live. Alicia Glen is the city's deputy mayor for housing and development.
ALICIA GLEN: Well, we are in an official housing crisis period in New York City. Our population is growing much more rapidly than our housing stock, and so we have a really imbalanced housing market.
ZARROLI: Glen says in recent years, a lot of new people have moved into the city. And because of changes in rent control laws, the city has lost 250,000 affordable apartments over the past few decades. The result is a market that's tighter than ever. Ingrid Ellen, who teaches urban policy and planning at NYU, says after controlling for inflation, median rents have increased 12 percent in eight years at a time when incomes are up just 2 percent.
INGRID ELLEN: Low-income households are struggling to pay their rent in every city in the United States. And what really makes New York City stand out is that moderate income renters are struggling.
SIMON KAIS: Smells good.
DAVID INFANTE: Yeah, I guess.
ZARROLI: David Infante (ph) and Simon Kais (ph) are buddies from college. They're in their twenties and they both have pretty good jobs. Not long ago, they spent three days looking for an apartment in lower Manhattan. Kais said they wanted two bedrooms and a dishwasher, and they didn't want to have to walk up too many flights of stairs.
KAIS: We didn't want to spend more than - I think $1,400 per person was the absolute limit. And those things combined with the dishwasher made things pretty hard in New York City.
ZARROLI: Eventually, they found something in their price range, but it was in a gritty part of Brooklyn across from a hospital where they hear sirens a lot.
INFANTE: If you, like, sort of did an exit poll on people who did five years in New York, 10 years in New York and decided to get out, housing and the constant runaround of it would probably be something that everyone cites, or at least most people.
ZARROLI: City officials are worried that a lot of people will be driven from New York. Landlords typically demand that prospective tenants have $40,000 in annual income for every $1,000 in rent, which means a six-figure income will get you a pretty nice one-bedroom in much of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Again, Alicia Glen.
GLEN: It may be hard for somebody who lives in the Midwest or the South to believe that you could make a $100,000 a year here and have a family and have a family of four and not be able to find an affordable place to live. But $100,000 a year could be a teacher and a nurse, and those people are the lifeblood of New York City.
ZARROLI: Glen says new housing is being built in New York, but the high cost of construction and land makes it hard for developers to earn a profit except at the high end. Douglas Wagner, an executive at the real estate firm Bond New York says even as competition for affordable housing surges, there's an oversupply of expensive apartments, places that start at $8,500 a month.
DOUGLAS WAGNER: Now especially in better buildings, there are a lot of empty apartments looking for tenants and, for the first time in some time, offering major incentives to get tenants to take apartments at this level.
ZARROLI: Meanwhile, the house shortage is driving more and more middle-income New Yorkers into the further reaches of Brooklyn and Queens to find apartments, and a new wave of gentrification is threatening to displace a lot of low-income people from those neighborhoods. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
SHAPIRO: And tomorrow, we'll hear about Mayor Bill de Blasio's plant to build affordable housing in New York City. Long-term residents question whether the apartments will really be affordable.
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