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Half of N.Y.C. Households Can’t Afford To Live Here, Report Finds

The study is the latest piece of evidence to demonstrate the depth of New York City’s affordability crisis, which is reshaping local demographics and culture.

The No. 4 train approaching a subway station in the Bronx. Residents of the central Bronx in particular were struggling to keep up with the cost of living in New York City.,Photo: Desiree Rios for The New York Times

New York City is staring down the worst affordability crisis of the last two decades, according to a new report released on Tuesday. A full half of the city’s households did not have enough money to comfortably hold down an apartment, access sufficient food and basic health care, and get around, the report said.

The study is the latest piece of evidence to demonstrate the depth of the crisis, which is reshaping local demographics and culture in real time.

Public officials have been particularly alarmed by a significant drop in public school enrollment, which accelerated during the worst of the pandemic and is driven in part by Black families leaving the city over concerns about the cost of living. Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have both made tackling the lack of affordability a priority, but it is unclear whether they will be able to make meaningful changes, particularly around housing.

The city is experiencing an acute shortage of affordable housing, an enormous problem that shows few signs of abating. Ms. Hochul’s push to build more housing across the state appears to have failed in recent state budget negotiations. Nearly 80 percent of households that did not bring in enough to meet the minimum cost of living in the city ended up contributing more than 30 percent of their income to housing, the study found.

At the same time, food prices have risen steadily amid stubborn inflation, and public transportation officials have warned of looming fare hikes.

The report was released Tuesday by the Fund for the City of New York, which advises government agencies and was established by the Ford Foundation in 1968, and the United Way of New York City. The reports’ authors used U.S. Census data from 2021 along with a measure that calculates the baseline for affordability for New York City families.

The study found that New Yorkers are even worse off than after the nadir of the pandemic. The groups’ 2021 report found that just over a third of city households could not keep up with the cost of living at the time, a figure that has since risen. The findings in this year’s report may partially reflect the challenges that low-income New Yorkers have faced when pandemic-era safety net programs like stimulus checks and child tax credits expired.

The percentage of households struggling to afford basic needs in the city was higher than any other year in the report’s two-decade history of studying the cost of living. Households in all five boroughs needed to be pulling in at least $100,000 to afford housing, food and transportation, and to have a shot at being able to plan for the future, the study found. In southern Manhattan, home to some of the most expensive ZIP codes in the country, families with two adults and two children needed to make at least $150,000 combined.

The actual median household income in the city was hovering around $70,000, according to the most recent Census data.

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New York City has long been unaffordable for its most vulnerable residents, including those without college degrees or people who are unable to work. But the report shows that a considerable majority of households that could not keep up with the cost of living — 80 percent — had at least one working adult, and more than half of New Yorkers who could not make ends meet had a college degree or some college credit, if not a graduate degree.

“People are doing everything they were told to do,” said Lisette Nieves, president of the Fund for the City of New York, but they still cannot afford to live here. “I feel like we’re representing a broken contract with people,” she added, noting that many working families end up in homeless shelters.

Among working New Yorkers, home health aides were most likely to have incomes that could not cover the basics, according to the study. Health aides account for one of the fastest-growing industries in New York City, but typically pull in very low salaries; the median wage for health aides was just over $15 an hour, the study found. Recent research has shown that the city is facing a massive shortage of home health aides, which will worsen significantly over the next few years.

Janitors, cashiers and teaching assistants were also likely to not be able to afford essentials.

The affordability crisis is particularly urgent for nonwhite New Yorkers, the study found. Latino, Black and immigrant New Yorkers were bearing the brunt of the affordability crisis, and residents of the central Bronx had the highest rates of economic instability.

And more than 85 percent of households where single mothers were taking care of young children were unable to keep up with the cost of living.

[Eliza Shapiro is a reporter on the Metro desk.]