Housing affordability, defined as a financially feasible portion of income spent on housing, is a problem in U.S. cities, including New York City. While housing costs have increased, most Americans' salaries are not increasing at the same rate. This project focuses on middle-income renters in high-cost New York City, who make 80%-165% of the area median income. While they have relatively high incomes, expenses like student loans and childcare costs stretch some households' finances, while non-income support, like family wealth and social capital augment others'. Less burdened by housing costs than low-income renters, a growing population of middle-income renters still face high housing costs. This manifests in rent increases in existing homes and as higher listed rents for on-the-market apartments.
This research analyzes how middle-income renters make sense of continued renting and how their impressions of affordability and desirability shape their housing opportunity landscape in New York City. Drawing from 32 interviews in 2018 with middle-income renters in three areas of New York City, I relay the tensions experienced by renters who want to stay in their neighborhood but cannot afford a rent increase or a different apartment in their neighborhood, due to changes since they moved there. Using a qualitative GIS analysis of study participants' perceptions of affordable and desirable places to live in the city, I identify how some anticipate exclusion from the city on a future move. In these ways, I interrogate how some middle-income renters make sense of being “stuck” in their current home, and how they spatialize their exclusion from desirable and affordable housing in the city. Finally, I propose an integrated framework to situate residential histories in the context of individual narratives and neighborhood change.