BetaTalk – Affordable Housing: Data, Policy, People (report back)

Affordable Housing: Data, Policy, People

  • Introductory remarks: Noel Hidalgo, Executive Director of BetaNYC
  • Moderator: Lucio Tolentino, Co-organizer of BetaNYC; Data scientist and Civic hacker
  • Panelists: Caitlyn Brazill, CAMBA; Moses Gates, Regional Plan Association; Emily Goldman, Cornell U & BetaNYC; John Krauss, Carto & Accursed Ware

Introduction to the Event:

On July 8th BetaNYC hosted a lunchtime discussion at Civic Hall, centered on the topic of affordable housing in New York City, with the four panelists above, moderated by a core BetaNYC organizer, Lucio, and with introductory remarks from Noel.  The motivation for the event was to share knowledge about this extremely important and complex topic, to stimulate more collaboration among people who work in this realm, and to inspire members of the Civic Tech community to further their own involvement in it.

In this write-up, we seek to synthesize and reiterate some of the information that was shared during this discussion, so the work may go on!

Some Key Facts:

  • Rent-stabilization represents the backbone of affordable housing in New York City—the number of units is not 100% certain, and it is also continuously changing (units leave and enter the system), but it is estimated that there are between 800,000 and 1,000,000 rent-stabilized units city-wide.
  • Every year, the Rent Guidelines Board, a joint State agency and City authority, sets the allowable rent increase for stabilized units. For the last three years, intense public pressure to halt rising rents has resulted in the RGB setting historically-low allowable percentage increases (ranging from 0% to 2.75% depending on the year and length of the lease.)
  • There are 328 NYCHA developments across the city, with approximately 180,000 units and 400,000 residents.  NYCHA units are not considered part of this rent-stabilized stock, but their rents are also affordable and regulated (by NYCHA and the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development–HUD).
  • NYCHA developments were constructed from 1934 through 1974.
  • An additional over 200,000 NYC residents use NYCHA housing vouchers (Section 8) to secure affordable housing in the private market.
  • Approximately 62,000 people sleep in homeless shelters nightly in NYC.
  • Homelessness, evictions, and overcrowding have escalated dramatically in the last decade.
  • The construction of more housing in NYC is considered an important component of any plan to address the current housing crisis.
  • All other things being equal, most communities would prefer NOT to have more housing constructed within their immediate neighborhood boundaries.
  • Approximately 4% of the City’s buildings are landmarked or in historic districts, where new construction is limited by the Landmarks Law.
  • Housing is considered affordable when tenants pay no more than 30% of their income on housing.

Lay of the Land–Data Sources:

PLUTO/MapPLUTO: parcel level data containing 83 fields of information per parcel across the city. Shapefile format (MapPLUTO) shows up-to-date building footprints. Given its large size, PLUTO data is available to download per individual borough. (link)

The ACRIS database, maintained by the Department of Finance, contains several fields of information on all registered transactions (buying, selling, mortgages) on parcels going back several decades. (link)

The Furman Center and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) have information about the various tax incentive programs used to incentivize developers to provide affordable housing, and the Department of Finance (DoF) has information about which program may be being used at specific properties.

HPD also takes a Housing and Vacancy Survey Report every three years, which has detailed information about affordable units and their residents. (link) Civic hackers have made it available in csv format: (link)

311 data is available through NYC’s Open Data portal, powered by Socrata, which includes all kinds of reported issues from residents (e.g. lack of heat or hot water). (link)

A great example of Civic tech work using this data: (link)

The Department of Buildings (DoB) has an abundance of data on all work being done on buildings (work done legally requires a DoB permit), as well as DoB violations and Stop Work orders, and whether the building has Landmark status. (link)

The Rent Guidelines Board has a large amount of data on its website, including lists of all buildings per borough that are registered as containing rent-stabilized units.  These lists, however, remain in PDF form. (link)

Civic hackers have scraped and FOILed to get the data in spreadsheet form though. (link)

The American Community Survey, of the U.S. Census, has detailed housing information, including rent, down to the level of the Census Block Group, an area designed to contain between 1,000-4,000 residents. The information is released yearly, but the five-year estimates are the most accurate. (link)

New York State Court System has key information on evictions but it isn’t “open data.” You can find information about the NYS Court System here (link) and Housing Court litigation data from NYC open data portal (link).—a dataset that panelist John Krauss created, by scraping hundreds of thousands of property tax bills in PDF form, which contains the number of rent-stabilized units per building, dating back to 2007. (link)


Some Data Holes / Data What We Want:

  • Real time information on exactly where tenants may be currently experiencing eviction and displacement, leading to homelessness. Best to get to these people before they must turn to the shelter.
  • Updated information on exactly where and how much new affordable housing is being built through the various tax programs created for this reason. This information would supplement our growing understanding of the existing rent-stabilized building stock.
  • More accountable, clearer, and up-to-date information on rents across the City at a highly localized level, since differences can be stark between blocks, buildings, even within buildings.

Concluding remarks:

BetaNYC would like to continue this conversation and help members of the Civic tech community grow their ideas, analyses, and projects on this topic. From many angles, there is a housing crisis in this City that threatens its ability to maintain a diverse range of residents living and working here. We urge you to continue thinking about and working on ways that the Civic tech community can contribute to the City having a healthier and happier relationship to the affordable housing it attempts to provide. We’ll be back in touch soon too, to keep the conversation and the work going.