NYC’s affordable housing struggles with rent arrears

Originally published in Politico

Residential apartment buildings are seen on July 26, 2022, in New York City. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Affordable housing buildings across the five boroughs are struggling with upwards of $145 million in rent arrears, according to a new analysis from the nonprofit New York Housing Conference.

The report looked at 49,121 affordable apartments, specifically those operating under regulatory agreements with government agencies that restrict rents based on income. Tenants in about 31 percent of them, or 15,237 households, owed more than two months of rent — an average of $9,565 in arrears. Ten percent of tenants, or 4,826 households, had more significant arrears, owing over $22,000 on average.

The report describes “significant financial distress” across both for-profit and nonprofit affordable housing owners — a problem the housing conference believes is widespread — due to the substantial arrears since 2020 among low-income tenants, and operating costs that have risen with inflation.

Affordable housing buildings, the report noted, are “developed and run on tight budgets, rent levels are set under regulatory agreements with government agencies and increases follow the rent guidelines board.”

“Maintaining the housing in the face of massive arrears like this would be difficult under normal circumstances,” the report says. “However, rising costs and regulated rents with minimal increases have put additional pressure on affordable housing owners and combined with the arrears are threatening the viability of affordable housing developments.”

Some renters in subsidized affordable housing did receive aid through the state’s emergency rental assistance program, which closed its application portal in January, but others did not. The report cited data from one affordable housing manager that showed nearly 6,100 of their tenants applied for the rental assistance, and nearly 4,000 were approved and received aid, but another 2,100 are still waiting.

The New York City Housing Authority is also facing substantial rent arrears, the report noted, with the agency’s rent collection rate at 65 percent in 2022, down from 88 percent in 2019. State legislators including Sen. Brian Kavanagh are calling for $389 million for rental assistance for public and subsidized housing tenants in this year’s budget.