New York City Planners: Pack ‘Em In!

At a recent conference organized by the Citizens Housing and Planning Council (covered by the New York Times, Crain’s, and City Limits), we heard a familiar refrain about New York City’s building stock: regulations have not kept up with the times, and there is a shortage of affordable units available for single adults, in particular. The result is widespread illegal conversions and dwellings – anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000, depending on who you ask – which, while mostly tolerated, are obviously not ideal, especially with regards to fire safety. And yet, the high cost of New York housing means people are flocking to them.

The conference focused on working with the square footage the city already has to make spaces more flexible. Many of the ideas, which include legalizing group homes with more than three unrelated adults, or allowing what were originally single-family homes to be carved into apartments, are eminently reasonable responses to the shrinking of family sizes and the explosion of single adults – half of all New Yorkers – looking for housing.

But some of the ideas, especially those emphasized in Times article, seemed a bit like giving up on expanding supply. Don’t get me wrong – I think that single room occupancies and even the whackier, dorm-like designs should be allowed – but the solution to New York’s housing problem can’t be all about cramming people into ever-smaller spaces. Surely there’s enough vertical space that we don’t all have to cram into cubbyholes, right?