How do middle-income renters make sense of housing costs in New York City?

Authors: Rebecca Shakespeare*, Geography, University Of Illinois, Urbana Champain - Urbana, IL
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, United States
Keywords: housing, residential mobility, urban geography, middle-income, renters
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Palladian, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Existing literature finds that middle-income renters can be “stuck” in an affordable unit, unable to move (Scanlon, 2015). Middle class residents draw upon social capital to find housing they can afford in an otherwise competitive market (Boterman, 2012). This paper analyzes how middle-income renters understand their residential mobility and immobility and how they form impressions of affordability and desirability in high-cost New York City. How do middle-income renters make sense of being “stuck” in their current home, where nearby housing no longer affordable to them? How do they shape their perceptions of affordability and desirability in the city? Using semi-structured interviews and sketch-mapping with 20+ middle-income renters who have lived in NYC since at least 2012, this project analyzes their perceived affordability and desirability landscape. Additionally, it analyzes the factors that shape their perceptions of a cost gap between their current home and their ability to move to a different home nearby. Findings demonstrate that current and previous housing is found through social contacts, considering commute practicalities and existing knowledge of the city. Contacts with real estate brokers are individually determined based on willingness to pay brokers' fees and positive experiences with brokers or negative outcomes of not working with them. Formal and informal real estate listings online form general awareness of pricing and price changes, and positive relationships with landlords enable renters to remain in place. While real estate is important for middle-income awareness of nearby housing prices, social reproduction seems to guide preferences and residential (im)mobilities.

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