Budget Reports

Hidden Households

October 05, 2015

New York City is in the midst of a protracted housing emergency. The City’s net estimated rental vacancy rate is the official statistic used to gauge a housing emergency, but there are other important variables that shed light on the state of our housing environment. Chief among these is crowding. Crowding is an established predictor of homelessness and a critical indicator of negative health, safety and economic household risk factors. The City’s “hidden households”, which contain nearly 1.5 million New Yorkers, are the topic of this report.

This report seeks to highlight crowding as a signifier of key social and economic conditions that may not otherwise be observable by City agencies through traditional means. The report examines crowding through two distinct lenses. First, we document changes in crowding trends over the course of nine years, using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) public use microdata from 2005 – 2013. Next, we explore the circumstances of crowded households in New York City, relying primarily on ACS public use microdata from 2013, the Census Bureau’s most current vintage.

Among the most notable crowding trends detailed in the report, we find that New York City’s overall crowding rate, which includes rental and ownership housing units, rose to 8.8 percent in 2013, compared to 7.6 percent in 2005. The City’s crowding rate is more than two and a half times the national crowding rate of 3.3 percent. The number of crowded dwelling units increased in all of the City’s boroughs except Staten Island during this time period with increases of 34.9 percent in Brooklyn, 15.4 percent in the Bronx and 12.4 percent in Queens.

Severe crowding, defined as housing units with more than 1.5 persons per room, also increased substantially, surging by 46.4 percent from 2005 to 2013, with increases seen in every borough.   Most notably, the proportion of studio apartments with three or more occupants rose by over 365 percent from 2005 to 2013. All told, 3.33 percent of all dwelling units in NYC were classified as severely crowded in 2013, compared to a national severe crowding rate of 0.99 percent.

The report also examines the social and economic circumstances of the City’s crowded households in 2013. In 2013, there were over 272,000 crowded dwelling units in New York City, occupied by more than 1.46 million residents. Some 23.6 percent of crowded households reported household incomes in the City’s bottom quartile, 18.5 percent of crowded households reporting household incomes in the City’s top quartile and 5.2 percent of crowded households reporting incomes in the 90th percentile or higher. This suggests that crowding is not a phenomenon that is limited only to low-income households.

Nearly 70 percent of crowded dwellings in New York City are occupied by an immigrant head of household and over 45 percent of all residents living in crowded dwellings are foreign born. Furthermore, the vast majority of residents living in crowded housing units have a family relationship to the head of household and more than four out of five crowded households include at least one person under 18 years old.

In the concluding discussion, the report highlights public safety and public health concerns as well as the relationship between crowding and homelessness and recommends areas of focus for city policy makers as they work to reduce the rising crowding rates documented in this report.

View the Entire Report in pdf