Public Housing Rapidly Deteriorating, But Better Than Tenements of Yore, Stringer Says


Comptroller Scott Stringer released a report of the city’s public housing conditions on Monday. The good news? “Nearly 125 years after Jacob Riis published How the Other Half Lives, exposing conditions in New York City’s crowded tenement buildings, the state of the city’s housing stock has dramatically improved.”

Welp, that’s a low bar! Here is Riis guiding his reader through a squalid 1889 tenement: “Come over here. Step carefully over this baby–it is a baby, spite of its rags and dirt–under these iron bridges called fire-escapes, but loaded down, despite the incessant watchfulness of the firemen, with broken household goods, with wash-tubs and barrels, over which no man could climb from a fire. This gap between dingy brick-walls is the yard. That strip of smoke-colored sky up there is the heaven of these people.”

Coddled and cosseted New Yorkers of 2014 should count themselves lucky that they only have to deal with the “increases in the number of broken or missing windows, upticks in heating equipment breakdowns, the presence of mice or rats, cracks and holes in interior walls and ceilings, broken plaster and peeling paint and water leaks” noted in the Comptroller’s report.

The report is an analysis of data gathered between 2002 and 2011 by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and U.S. Census Bureau’s triennial Housing and Vacancy Survey.

During that time, the comptroller’s office saw a 945 percent increase in broken or missing windows. Rodent sightings increased in public housing over the course of data collection too–26 percent of public housing residents reported rodent sightings within the last three months in 2005, compared with 37 percent in 2011.

In 2011, the average public housing building had three times the number of broken windows of the average New York apartment building. Peeling paint, broken plaster and broken heating equipment were recorded in public housing buildings at roughly double the rate of market-rate apartments that year too.

Even the report’s lone bright spot–that 99.8 percent of all housing types in New York City were in “structurally decent condition” as of 2011–was appended with a disheartening caveat: 79 percent of public housing units now have at least one deficiency, a rate that’s climbed steadily from 62 percent just a decade ago, in 2002.

“New York City’s housing stock is among the most valuable in the world, but my report today shows that there are great disparities in how New Yorkers live. Securing funding for NYCHA maintenance and repairs and vigorously enforcing the housing code must be a priority for this administration,” Stringer said in a statement.

Read the full report:

How New York Lives

Additional reporting by Jon Campbell.