En Español Know Your Rights
Source: The New York Times
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Housing Crisis Hurts Immigrants More

The real
estate run-up and ensuing credit crisis has exacerbated an already grim housing
situation for New York City immigrants, according to a report issued today by
the **New York Immigrant Housing Collaborative and Pratt Center for
Community Development.

According
to the **report, "Confronting the Housing Squeeze: Challenges
Facing Immigrant Tenants, and What New York Can Do" [pdf], foreclosures have
been concentrated outside of Manhattan in neighborhoods with large immigrant
populations — such as Jamaica and Queens Village in Queens, and Flatlands, East
Flatbush, and Bushwick in Brooklyn. Immigrants who own homes pay far more of
their incomes for housing, on average, than native-born New Yorkers, and may
have been vulnerable to subprime lending.

In
addition, some private equity investors have been accused of buying buildings
and then using aggressive and sometimes questionable tactics in creating tenant
turnover to raise rents. With the exception of some large developments like Stuyvesant Town, the investors seem to have been
concentrating their purchases in neighborhoods which have more than the
citywide average of immigrant households. The report speculates that this may
be because immigrants are especially vulnerable to other harassment techniques
because many have limited English skills and are in the country illegally, or
have other legal issues.

More than
1.5 million immigrants moved to New
York between 1990 and 2007, and the city is currently
almost 40 percent foreign-born. A number of nonprofit immigrant advocacy groups
conducted the 2007 survey used in the report, interviewing 541 immigrant tenant
households, across a wide range of ages, gender, and country of origin. (A
complete list of the participants is in the report. [pdf])

According
to a 2005 study quoted in the report, immigrants actually pay less in absolute
rent than native-born Americans, but their incomes are lower. About one quarter
of native-born Americans pay more than half their income in rent, while about
31.5 percent of immigrants do. However, the rent burden can range significantly
depending on the year of arrival and the country of origin.

Those who
arrived after 1989 reported spending two-thirds of monthly income on rent,
while immigrants who arrived in the United States in the 1980s or
earlier reported an average rent of half their monthly income. According to the
survey, those from South America and Mexico face the highest burdens at
71.7 percent and 79.8 percent, respectively. In contrast, those from Central
America and China
face the lowest rent burdens.

In
addition, immigrants are much less likely than their native-born counterparts
to live in housing created through public programs. Under one-third of
immigrant black and Latino low-income New Yorkers live in subsidized housing,
compared to half of native-born black and Latino low-income New Yorkers,
according to another survey, by the Community Service Society.

Interestingly,
the likelihood that a New Yorker lives in substandard housing conditions
appears to be correlated with race more than with immigrant status. As a group,
immigrants are less likely than native-born black and Latino tenants to live in
substandard housing with peeling paint, vermin, leaks and other problems.
However, they are more likely than native-born white and Asian tenants to face
such problems.

Immigrants
have adopted a number of strategies to cope with the housing shortage, such as
overcrowding and creating illegal homes. According to the report, New York City gained
approximately 114,000 phantom apartments in the 1990s that are not approved for
living or reflected in the official number of certificates of occupancy the
city granted for new construction or renovation. They include private homes
that have been cut into rooming houses, two-family homes with unauthorized
basement apartments and unapproved residential conversions of commercial lofts.
To combat the problem, the report proposed creating a program that would legalize
safe, existing units that are forbidden under current zoning or building
regulations.

Among
other proposals: covering more buildings in immigrant areas through an
expansion of a program aimed at poorly maintained buildings; providing
incentives for small buildings where homeowners agree to rent units to tenants
at below-market rents; and creating a citywide transparent waiting list for
city-subsidized housing programs.

**Make the Road is a founding member of the New
York Immigrant Housing Collaborative.

**MRNY conducted significant research
for this report.