Mayor Adams Struggles to Address NYC’s Worsening Affordable Housing Crisis

New York City Mayor Eric Adams campaigned on promises to create more affordable housing and initiate economic development for the city. But has he kept his promises since entering office in January 2022?

New York City’s housing crisis is at its worst point in decades, arguably in the worst condition ever. Currently, half of the city’s households spend 30% of their income on rent, while around one-third of households spend 50%. Most fiscal experts recommend spending no more than 30% of income on rent, but when you live in New York City, where the current average rent is $2,750 and the average income is around $50,000, that is practically impossible. 

The city’s housing crisis is not a new problem; rather, it is one that has been in the making for decades. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue, as it brought hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to the brink of homelessness due to the financial burdens it imposed. Those who were already experiencing the burdens of the housing crisis before the pandemic are now much more likely to lose their jobs and homes due to the rising unemployment levels. According to a study done by the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, approximately 34% of New Yorkers earning less than $50,000 a year claimed that either they or someone they knew had lost their jobs during just the first couple of weeks of the pandemic. Notably, this survey only reported on job loss during the first couple of weeks of the pandemic. COVID-19 restrictions, including social distancing and quarantine, made the rate of job loss among lower-income families drastically increase over the course of the pandemic. Since the study’s completion, more than half of lower-income families have suffered from job loss or wage cuts. 

Mayor Adam’s major initiative in addressing the housing crisis was his proposal to create a  “City of Yes.” This is part of a joint investment with the City Council of $32 billion in affordable housing over the next ten years. Adams asserts that the solution to the lack of affordable housing options across the city is to build more housing; thus, the goal of fostering a “City of Yes” is to make the production of affordable housing easier and faster while also creating a more environmentally friendly city and job opportunities across the boroughs. In a press release from the Mayor’s office, Adams discussed in more detail his plan to support the city economically and create more affordable housing.:

“These proposals focused on economic recovery, affordable housing, and sustainability will remove red tape for small businesses, expand housing opportunities in every neighborhood, and accelerate the transition to our energy future. New Yorkers are not going to wait around while other cities and other countries sprint towards a post-pandemic world, and now we won’t have to.”

Mayor Adams proceeded to outline his vision for the “City of Yes” in a release from the Mayor’s office in the beginning of June. The proposal encompasses three city-wide zoning amendments that focus on supporting local small businesses, alleviating environmental concerns, and increasing the overall number of housing options. Adams’ goal is to create more jobs, reduce the city’s carbon footprint, and increase the number of available and affordable housing options. The Mayor also hopes to directly work with the city and with communities to foster economic development and to make these changes. He demonstrated this initiative at the end of September of 2022, when he worked with the City Council to pass a new affordable housing project in Astoria, Queens. These efforts will create over 1,300 homes, with 335 of those being affordable. While this is a major advancement for the Mayor’s office in advancing their “City of Yes” proposal, there is still a long way to go. 

As more evidence of the severity of NYC’s housing crisis, Mayor Adams declared a migrant emergency on October 7th, 2022 due to the recent influx of migrants into NYC homeless shelters. At least nine buses of asylum seekers have arrived in New York City to date, and are expected to push the shelter population to over 100,000. This drastically surpasses the previous record set in 2019 of around 61,000 in the shelters at one time.

By declaring a state of emergency, Mayor Adams is asking for both state and federal help in addressing this crisis. This declaration also allows for emergency relief shelters—including ones on Orchard Beach on Randalls Island—across the city to be opened far more easily. However, the New York City Council and city residents immediately attacked and rejected these proposals, claiming that the locations are dangerous and inhospitable.

Originally, Adams had started construction on a tent city for migrants on Orchard Beach in the Bronx, but this plan was met with a wave of criticism. Following the announcement, dozens of Bronx residents gathered at the site in protest, raising concerns about the potential for flooding issues that would harm the community, potential increases in crime in the area, as well as exacerbating the scarcity of local resources in a low-income neighborhood. In response, Adams stated that he planned to relocate 500 of the 16,000 migrants in NYC to a new shelter on Randall’s Island. Adams’ office hopes to increase the capacity of the new site from 500 to 1,000, but for now, they are primarily focusing on its completion in the same timeframe as the original Orchard Beach site. Though the new site on Randalls Island is not perfect, as there are still concerns about the weather and the distance from public transportation, it is a step in the right direction. 

The recent migrant influx into New York City has only exacerbated the issues of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing available. Mayor Eric Adams came into office amid the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic, inheriting a city plagued by economic uncertainty, high unemployment levels, and all of the underlying issues that come with a city in turmoil. Since then, he has made great strides in addressing the devastating effects of the affordable housing crisis, but he still has a long way to go if he hopes to hold true to his campaign promises.