The Mayor has announced his ten year, five borough plan to increase the supply of affordable housing in New York - but it appears he's down on the single biggest supply of affordable accommodation the city has to offer, apartment sharing. Why?
Although apartment sharing makes it possible for millions of people to live in a city as expensive as New York, the Mayor blames roommates for driving up rents and declared his intent to build more studios and one bedroom apartments.
Of course building more is essential, and studios are great for those who want and can afford them. But living with roommates isn't just a vital lifeline for young renters (and increasingly not so young renters - one in five New York roommates is over 35 and one in 12 is over 45), it's also part of the iconic New York story. Countless artists, actors, entrepreneurs and musicians got their start in NYC by sharing to keep costs down. Andy Warhol and his college buddy Philip Pearlstein got their start in New York in a subleased eighth-floor walkup on St. Mark's Place. Pearlstein went on to become an important realist painter and we all know what happened to Warhol.
Sharing is an essential factor in New York's rightly celebrated diversity, vibrancy and creativity. Do you really want to live in a city where everyone has their own tiny studio and nobody shares? Of course not, people share for social reasons as well as financial - what's more where would the great sitcoms come from? Imagine 'Friends' set in six separate studio apartments - seven if Marcel got his own place.
As it stands, a SpareRoom.com survey of New York sharers revealed that 85% are rent burdened and a staggering 61% are severely rent burdened, according to the Mayor's own guidelines. That's three out of every five paying more than half their salary in rent. When you take into account we're talking about roommates, who generally have the cheapest rents, it's a wonder anyone can afford to live in New York at all.
Yes, building more housing has the potential to reduce rents, but ten years is a long time. 100,000 new market rate units and 80,000 affordable units are going to take years to build. Apartment sharing is a huge resource available today, this minute - now. Better management of existing housing stock is just as important as building more.
Apartment sharing is part of the New York story. Everyone's done it at some point and there's a reason for that - it's the most affordable way to live in an expensive city. By all means let's build more, including studios and one beds where appropriate, but let's not close the door on a vital part of the housing market.