Why New York’s Rent is So Expensive

And How Well Intentioned Policy Is Making It Worse

Coby Lefkowitz

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New York City is an expensive place to live. This much is obvious. But in the last 6 months as the city has emerged from the doldrums of Covid-19, this feels especially true.

While there was a brief period between May of 2020 through the fall of 2021 where rents remained below previous highs, the time for deals is now long gone. In February of this year, the median rent for apartments in Manhattan eclipsed the pre-Covid peak of $3,650 in April of 2020, and it’s only continued climbing. In May, median rent broke $4,000 a month for the first time in the borough’s history. Average rent hovered at $5,000.

It hasn’t been much better city wide. Medians rents in Brooklyn as of May were $3,250, and nearly $3,000 in Northwest Queens. Average rents, and apartments with more than one bedroom, were much more expensive.

These extraordinary prices have led to some equally extraordinary scenes. Lines of dozens of people queuing up to tour (small and costly) apartments prevail. Overcrowding has become a condition of life. Nearly 10% of all households have more than one person per room, though actual numbers are likely much higher, as immigrants in far off neighborhoods living surreptitiously in basements go unrecorded. Roommates are required.

As a New Yorker who works in real estate (though not in New York real estate), I get a lot of questions about the market. Why is New York’s rent so expensive? Are landlords just greedy? Is there a bubble? Will rents come down soon? As someone who has unsuccessfully been trying to move back into the city for more than a year, I’ve been looking for answers myself. Though apartment salvation doesn’t seem likely in the near-term future for me, luckily, the answer to most of these questions is more easily realized.

So, what’s going on in New York?

We’re not building enough housing

Walk most streets in lower Manhattan after 6 or 7 o’clock in the evening, and you’ll be immersed in a raucous…

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Coby Lefkowitz

Urbanist, Developer, Writer, & Optimist working to create more beautiful, sustainable, healthy, equitable and people-oriented places.