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New York City’s Renters Are Heading Towards a Cliff

April 28, 2020

Racial Disparities in Savings Put Black and Latinx Tenants at Greater Risk

As May 1st approaches, the question of making the rent looms large for New York’s 8.2 million renters. Over the past six weeks, we have seen an unprecedented shut-down of our society in order to save lives during a public health crisis unlike any we have faced in our lifetimes.

But even before we were faced with a pandemic, New York was in the midst of a serious housing affordability crisis. That existing housing crisis now combined with the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout is driving New York’s renters towards a cliff. In just three weeks, 1.2 million New Yorkers filed unemployment insurance claims, representing 12.6% of the state’s entire workforce. And that is an under-count of true loss of income, as it excludes those who have lost income but are ineligible for unemployment insurance - including New York’s approximately 530,000 undocumented immigrants - as well as those who have not applied. Even those who are eligible face extreme delays in receiving financial relief, and less than half of New Yorkers who applied received unemployment benefits for March. Similarly, for the few who qualified for the one-time stimulus check, many still have not received their funds due to delays or ineligibility.

For many New Yorkers this sudden loss of income due to the pandemic comes on top of pre-existing financial precarity and reinforces existing disparities in housing and financial security for Black and Latinx households. Nationally, the median savings account balance for Black and Latinx households is $1,500 - not enough to pay more than one month’s rent for the vast majority of New Yorkers. White households have a median of $9,700 in savings accounts while Asian and Other households have a median $12,800 in their accounts. While national data on savings for Asian households is limited - with Asian Americans aggregated into an “Other” category - New York’s Asian American population is also likely to be adversely impacted - 23.8% of Asian New Yorkers live in poverty, the highest rate of any racial group in the city.

The median savings in Black and Latinx households doesn’t cover April and May rent in New York State.

New York State’s renter population is disproportionately Black and Latinx, and Black and Latinx households are also disproportionately rent burdened.

Infographics by Lucy Block

The only thing currently holding back a massive wave of tenant displacement is the eviction moratorium that was put in place on March 16th. The moratorium is an essential temporary measure, but it is just that: temporary. There is no plan to protect millions of tenants living on the edge of displacement on the day after the eviction moratorium expires. New York needs a serious rent relief plan - one that will ensure that all New Yorkers have access to safe, decent, affordable housing once the immediate threat of the virus recedes. We have a choice - to come out of this pandemic worse off than ever, with even deeper and more damaging patterns of displacement, economic inequality, and racial disparity, OR emerge on the other side of this crisis closer to becoming a city where we all have the opportunity to live and thrive. Which will it be?

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