The Affordable Housing Landscape in NYC:

What Systems Comprise the "Affordable Housing" Network, and Where Are They Located?

Manhattan from the Empire State Building. Source: Andrew nyr
Manhattan facing north from the Empire State Building. (Source: Andrew Nyr via Wikimedia Commons)


According to US Census data, the NYC population was estimated at approximately 8,467,513 people for 2021 while the number of housing units totaled 3,644,000. Of these units (Fig. 1), 2,274,200 (or 62%) were rentals while 1,016,525 (28%) were owner-occupied.

Line graph of the NYC Median Asking Rent from Dec 2012-Dec 2022 according to StreetEasy

Fig. 1 (Source: NYC Rent Guidelines Board)

Rental prices in the NYC area have become so exorbitant that, currently, it actually has the highest rent prices in the US. According to StreetEasy (Fig. 2), by December 2022, the median asking rent for each of the five boroughs stood at:

Line graph of the NYC Median Asking Rent from Dec 2012-Dec 2022 according to StreetEasy
Fig. 2 (Source: StreetEasy)

Meanwhile, according to the Census Bureau, the NYC median household income stood at $70,663 for 2021 (according to the American Community Survey (ACS) 5-Year Estimates in 2021 dollars). If we were to follow the long-standing rule in academic circles that a household should spend no more than 30% of its income on housing costs, that would mean that no one in NYC should have spent more than an average of approximately $1,766 for rent in 2021.

Once a household must spend more than 30% of their income on housing, it is considered "rent burdened." New York City, unsurprisingly, is currently the most rent-burdened city in the US. According to Moody's Analytics, a NYC household would have to pay almost 69% of their median household income to rent an averaged-priced apartment.

What Does "Affordable Housing" Mean in NYC?

In NYC, "affordable housing" refers to both rental apartments and homeownership opportunities that are accessible only if a resident's income falls between 0 and 165% of something called "Area Median Income" (or AMI). AMI is determined every year by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). (However, HUD does not use the term "Area Median Income," but rather "Median Family Income," which it then uses to calculate "income limits" for various housing programs.)

American Community Survey income data vs. HUD's income data

Fig. 3 (Sources: US Census American Community Survey, HUD)

However, using AMI as the basis for deciding who gets access to "affordable housing" is a hotly contested issue.

Activists point out several flaws with the way in which AMI is currently calculated. The Office of the Public Advocate, the NYC Independent Budget Office, and the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development all point out that to calculate the NYC area median income, HUD includes the median incomes of not just the five counties of the five boroughs but also the three additional counties of Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester.

As can be seen in the visualization above (Fig. 3), when one looks at the US Census American Community Survey (ACS) Median Household Income figures by borough, one can empathize with critics' frustration over HUD's blanket figure that the NYC Area Median Income stands at $94,500 for a 3-person household. According to the Office of the Public Advocate, as a result of this calculation, “Extremely low and low income New Yorkers still have trouble accessing affordable housing.”

The Systems Comprising "Affordable Housing" in NYC

In NYC, “affordable housing” is a complicated hodge-podge of systems that can largely be broken down to:

1) New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) - Founded in 1934 to try to fix the shoddy tenements during the Great Depression, today NYCHA comprises about 335 buildings in approximately 178,000 apartments, housing around 350,000 residents across the city.

2) The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) - HPD is responsible for developing and maintaining NYC's stock of affordable housing.
  • Mitchell-Lama moderate-to-middle-income rental and for-purchase co-op units: 91 developments with approximately 46,000 units. The Mitchell-Lama program was created in 1955 to provide affordable rental and for-purchase cooperative housing for moderate-to-middle-income families. A full list of the developments can be found here.
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (Low-income participants pay no more than 40% of their adjusted monthly income, then use housing vouchers to cover the rest): There are ~85,000 vouchers helping house NYC residents across the city
  • Housing Development Fund Corporation (HDFC) Co-ops: Today, there are over 1100 co-ops. Units that are for sale can be found on by going to "More Filters" using the "Income Restricted" filter or on by going to "More Filters" and typing "HDFC" into the "Keywords" search bar. Established in 1966, the purpose of the HDFC program is to provide loans to nonprofit organizations to develop low-income housing projects.
  • Housing Development Corp. (HDC): Low-to-middle income rentals and coops for purchase found via the NYC Housing Development Corp. and NYC Housing Connect websites. Established in 2003, the HDC is a public benefit corporation that finances the creation and preservation of affordable housing in NYC. The year it launched, it originated, committed or completed re-financings totaling $595 million.

  • *Also, you may have heard the term "rent-regulated." These apartments break down further into the two subcategories "rent-stabilized" and "rent-controlled." There are approximately 1 million “rent-stabilized” units and 16,400 “rent-controlled” units across the city. "Rent-regulated" apartments are not necessarily affordable in the least; it just means that there are actually laws governing how much your landlord can increase your rent - whereas there are no limits to how much the landlords of market-rate apartments can increase their rents. The only rules that do exist concerning market-rate-apartment landlords require their giving advanced written notice before they a) can raise your rent 5% or more or b) if decide to not renew your lease.

    Map of "Affordable Housing" Vacancies & Wait-List Opportunities from March 2023

    To view map legend, please click on the Open legend icon icon.