Our Voices

Dr. Sharon Mullon Discusses the New York Housing Crisis

Given the rising cost of living in recent years, the majority of New Yorkers face significant challenges in finding affordable housing. This issue is exacerbated by a disparity between the inflation rate and the stagnant minimum wage. Additionally, the process of gentrification has further compounded these difficulties, leaving many residents feeling discouraged and marginalized.

Housing is a fundamental human necessity. It is neither a privilege nor merely a right, but an essential component of human dignity. In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), recognizing adequate housing as a crucial element of the right to an adequate standard of living. Although the UDHR is not legally binding, the United Nations subsequently adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which carries legal obligations for the signatory states.

The cost of living has surged dramatically across many states, with New York being particularly affected. Historically, New York has had a higher cost of living compared to most other states, a trend that continues to escalate. According to recent data, the cost of living in New York is 27% higher than the national average, with housing costs being 80% higher than the national average.

Long Island and New York City are particularly vulnerable to these rising costs. In Long Island, there are increasing restrictions on land use to prevent the construction of multi-family units in prime locations. This approach is intended to ensure that economic benefits are directed towards local development rather than large corporations. Supporting local businesses, such as dining at local restaurants, not only creates jobs but also reinvests in the community. For every dollar spent at a local business, approximately 68% is reinvested back into the community.

Similarly, New York City is experiencing significant gentrification and the displacement of low-income communities, especially in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Large corporations are purchasing land to develop luxury properties, which they sell or rent at high prices to affluent individuals. This practice attracts a wealthier demographic, further driving up housing costs and displacing long-term, lower-income residents.

Though the housing process can be daunting and frustrating, it is not completely impossible. I interviewed Sharon Mullon, a fair housing coordinator for the Long Island Housing Partnership organization, and asked her some questions to gain a better perspective.

Q: What are some trends you are seeing in the market right now? 

Dr. Sharon Mullon: High interest rates and low housing inventory affect both purchasers and sellers. For purchasers, the small inventory forces selling prices upward due to high demand and the current high interest rates are making it extremely difficult for first time buyers to purchase a home. Sellers are reluctant to sell because they face interest rates that are nearly double their current rate and they also face the same low inventory/high purchase price. Some solutions may include more affordable housing, including rentals, for older adults who want to downsize. This may increase the “for sale” inventory and lower purchase prices. 

Q: Other than cost, what has made acquiring housing more difficult? 

Dr. Sharon Mullon: New homes are slow to come on the market because of land use, zoning issues, the lengthy approval process, community opposition, and supply chain shortages/delays. All of these variables affect the creation of more housing. Additionally, it is more difficult to build affordable units due to the high cost of land and materials.  

Q: What is the challenge that you frequently encounter when you are counseling people? 

Dr. Sharon Mullon: It is important that homebuyers understand the associated expenses of homeownership and other expenses. They need to be prepared for future expenses such as property tax re-assessments, home repairs, car repairs, loss of a job or reduced income, and unexpected medical expenses. Sound financial planning is a must when purchasing a home. 

Q: How has COVID-19 affected the process of applying for housing? 

Dr. Sharon Mullon: COVID-19 necessitated closing offices, working remotely, counseling via Zoom, and developing digital gateways for home buyers to access information and to apply for available housing opportunities—both home ownership and rental. While electronic applications had been available, many housing organizations surveyed products to find the best software for clients to use. 

Q: Big outbreaks of COVID-19 have been on the decline for almost two years now. Have you seen any positive changes that have come out of the pandemic? 

Dr. Sharon Mullon: Most housing agencies have adopted fully automated application systems that can be completed online. There also are secure portals for the submission of confidential documents such as tax returns, etc. Clients can still come to the office if they need assistance with language access or are uncertain about the application itself and/or the accompanying documentation required. Most of the counseling appointments are done via Zoom and that is, in most cases, desired by clients since it fits into their work schedules and does not necessitate traveling.

Q: Any simple advice or tips for people looking right now? 

Dr. Sharon Mullon: The homebuying process is very complicated and housing counseling is very important. Even if a person is not ready to purchase, the person can begin to develop a plan and start saving for future expenses. If the client has a credit problem, a plan can be developed so that in a year or two the client is purchase ready. It also is important to understand fair housing laws to ensure that the person is not a victim of discrimination. Federal fair housing laws, and lending laws, as well as New York State Human Rights Laws, protect buyers and renters. Many resources are available online. 

A prospective buyer or renter should take advantage of housing counseling as well as available fair housing training. There are numerous online programs and agencies providing this information.

The escalating cost of living and the pervasive effects of gentrification produce housing challenges for New Yorkers. Addressing these issues requires policy interventions and community engagement to ensure access to housing and sustainable economic development.