Op-ed | How do you measure a housing crisis? Talk to New Yorkers.

The New York City skyline.
File Photo by Dean Moses

How many apartments are available to rent in NYC? Is housing really more expensive? When people say there’s a housing crisis, is that just rhetoric or is there data backing that up?

As New Yorkers, we know the answers to these questions because we live the housing crisis firsthand. We know that when a low-cost apartment comes on the market, it won’t be available for long. We know how much we spend on rent each month, and we know how much it’s eating into our paychecks. That’s why when City leaders need good, reliable data on our housing market we turn to the people who know best – New Yorkers themselves.

About every three years since 1965, the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development partners with the U.S. Census Bureau to conduct a rigorous survey based on tens of thousands of interviews with real New Yorkers at their doorsteps about our housing market and how we live. This one-of-a-kind study, known as the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey or the NYCHVS for short, provides rich details on the state of housing in our city. In fact, new interviews are being collected right now, and you may be asked to participate.

Consider these findings from the 2021 NYCHVS as a snapshot in time: less than five percent of rental homes are available for rent. Even fewer homes under $1,500 are available for rent – less than one percent – the lowest it’s been in 30 years. The typical New Yorker needs to make twice as much to afford the city’s median rent, which is pushing $2,750. And half of the city’s renters are considered rent burdened, with a third spending over half their monthly income on rent.

Altogether, the NYCHVS takes a precise picture of what it’s like to live here that we can compare to past versions. But it’s not simply a snapshot either. It’s a scientifically conducted survey selecting 15,000 addresses throughout New York City to represent the overall housing stock and population – about 3.4 million homes and 8.4 million people.

The NYCHVS conducts interviews in all NYC neighborhoods, in seven different languages, and for every type of housing we have in the city. And we work with the Census Bureau to cross-check all the data we collect using multiple sources to make sure we’re getting it right. Regardless of who you are, where you live, or the language you speak – you’re represented. It is designed for New Yorkers, by New Yorkers, and is the only survey of its kind.

A new NYCHVS is being collected right now. In fact, this week marks the last few days where the Census Bureau goes door-to-door speaking with New Yorkers. You may be selected to participate in the survey – and it’s extremely important that you do.

Your participation impacts policy decisions that can help millions of your fellow New Yorkers. The data collected through the NYCHVS helps the City better support vulnerable New Yorkers in need of stable housing, homeowners struggling to make their mortgage payments, rent-stabilized tenants who benefit from strong rental protections, and helps our leaders fight for the funding we need from Albany and Washington to address this crisis.

We need the best possible data to make the best possible decisions, and that depends on our ability to hear directly from real New Yorkers who know best.

Smart policy relies on hard data and facts, and for the past 60 years, the NYCHVS has provided the good, reliable data we need. We need your help. Please answer your door if a Census worker knocks or rings your doorbell. You’ll be doing all of us a favor.

Adolfo Carrion Jr. is the commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development