Data Analysis: Race Demographics and its Role in Poverty and Housing

Charles Campbell ’23

Racial discrimination through the years has become increasingly nuanced. There are no longer clear cut laws legalizing racial injustices; however, remnants of racist legislation still hold an effect on current society. The rental market in New York City is a prime example of how past practices, such as redlining, still influence the formation of the contemporary urban environment that largely harms black and brown folks. Redlining is the practice of the systemic denial of housing; as a result of individual identifications such as race and sex, through the selective raising of prices. This past, combined with the current prejudices just reinforces a system that already works to strip people of color of potential life bettering opportunities. My research aims to highlight how the racial demographic of New York City boroughs, along with neighborhoods within the borough, correlate to rental prices and poverty levels; thus keeping people of color and low-income residents out of more affluent boroughs and neighborhoods.

To begin my research, I wanted to see the relationship between real median rental prices and the minority populations of the five New York City boroughs. These two variables were of particular interest to me because I believe that any trend relating to an increase or decrease in median rental prices as it relates to racial demographics can be indicative of a lack of economic mobility. While the relationship between housing and social mobility may not be abundantly clear for some, it is extremely important to understand that a person’s neighborhood reflects their ability to find quality healthcare, education, and have an increased access to food security. 

The scatter plot graph I created uses data collected from the NYU Furman Center database, which focuses on advancing research and debate on housing, neighborhoods, and urban policy. The data I have specifically chosen to highlight is from 2019 as I thought it would be best to have recent data while trying to avoid the complications that the pandemic provided on the NYC housing market. 

Figure 1: NYC Borough Minority Populations and Real Median Rental Prices in 2019

Source: NYU Furman Center 2019

The data suggests a negative relationship between minority population rates and subsequent median rental prices. However, Staten Island is an extreme outlier with the lowest minority population rate and the second cheapest median rental price. I argue that this is a result of its distance from the “City” as it is closer to New Jersey than it is New York. This can likely explain the low cost since people not only pay for the neighborhood, but its proximity to popular sights, public transportation, working areas, and more. Now, excluding Staten Island, it is safe to say there seems to be a negative correlation between the two variables. A higher minority population means lower valued real estate while a whiter neighborhood relates to more expensive properties. 

There could be several arguments made to negate a relationship between the two aforementioned variables. Manhattan is the most expensive as a result of its proximity to popular tourist attractions. The Bronx is the cheapest due to its distance from those attractions. All of these boroughs have different average crime rates, their upkeep of property is different, quality of life is different and that plays a role in real estate pricing; however, these differences are suggestive of a racist past that is not being addressed and instead worsening. To draw this conclusion, I think it’s important to address poverty levels and wealth concentrations along with minority population percentages and real median rental prices. 

Table 1: Poverty and Wealth Distribution by NYC Boroughs

Location Public Housing (Percentage of Rental Units)Poverty Rates Percentage of Residents w/ a Household Income of more than $100,000Minority Population Percentages 
New York City 8.40%16.0%32.8%65.10%
The Bronx13.30%26.4%15.6%89.10%
Manhattan 8.70%14%45.5%50.20%
Queens 3.80%10.8%32.2%71.50%
Staten Island 8.30%8.3%42%38.80%

Source: NYU Furman Center 2019 and United States Census Bureau 2019

This table further contextualizes the living environment of New York City. As the minority population percentage increases in a borough so does the poverty rate; in addition the data also suggests that there will be an opposite reaction with the percentage of residents making over $100,000. The concentration of wealth and poverty in specific boroughs, along with a notable difference in rental prices can be viewed as a means to keep people of color and low-income residents out of “whiter” and “richer” boroughs. 

For example, the Bronx has the highest minority population with the lowest median rental prices along with the highest percentage of public housing rental units. Not only is it more economically available compared to its counterparts, but the Bronx also holds the highest incidence of asthma rates in America as a result of heavy traffic and overcrowded living conditions resulting in a hospitalization rate 21% over the national average. Heavy traffic is one of the largest contributing factors to heavy asthma rates as a result of three major highways: the Major Deegan, the Bruckner, and the Cross Bronx expressways. It is extremely important that we acknowledge that the Bronx is the only neighborhood that suffers this level of highway traffic. Of course it makes sense that it would be cheaper to live here in comparison to other boroughs that don’t have the same innate health risk; however, the Bronx also has the highest level of public housing, and is substantially cheaper than its counterparts. I am certain that the quarter of residents living in the Bronx that live below the poverty line would love to move into a better living situation, but when it’s the cheapest option, how are they supposed to leave? 

My argument that the rental prices in New York reflect past racial discrimination can be seen when analyzing Manhattan’s diversity along with the concentration of wealth and poverty within the borough. Manhattan is the most expensive borough to live in, and has the largest portion of residents with a household income over $100,000; but it is one of the counties with the most profound income inequality in the country and has the third highest rate of poverty among the five boroughs. Given that the racial makeup of the city is nearly 50/50, it’s important to analyze where the concentrations of wealth and poverty are in the city. Manhattan’s three neighborhoods with the lowest percentage of residents living in or near poverty are predominantly white neighborhoods with only 25% to 30% of non-white residents. Manhattan’s three neighborhoods with the highest percentage of residents living in or near poverty are predominantly people of color with 65% to 84% of residents being people of color. The data that suggested that a whiter borough would correlate with a wealthier borough holds true when examining trends within the boroughs themselves. The wealth is concentrated in whiter boroughs and neighborhoods.

Modern day redlining looks very different from how it did in the past, but it still thrives and is a current issue that is not often discussed. New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the United States, still faces a severe issue in housing equality and discrimination and a worsening income inequality problem. There shouldn’t be such a large disproportion in wealth and poverty depending on the racial demographic of a neighborhood. The most affordable and accessible (cheaper cost and available public housing) housing options should not come with innate health risks that wealthier and whiter neighborhoods do not have to face. If equity is truly the goal, there needs to be more economically available housing in New York City. Poverty should not be pushed into specific neighborhoods. Diversity should not be pocketed. The prevalence of poverty in neighborhoods and boroughs with a large community of color is the result of gentrification and predatory pricing.