Nonwhites, New Yorkers Have Worst City Housing Quality

May 08, 1997

ITHACA, N.Y. -- For many urban Americans -- especially nonwhites and New Yorkers -- home sweet home is structurally inadequate and overcrowded, according to a new Cornell University study.

Although American housing quality has improved dramatically over the past 50 years, nonwhites were three times more likely to live in structurally inadequate housing than whites in seven representative metropolitan areas studied. When factors such as income, education, location, race and age of building were controlled for statistically, being black or white became the only significant racial predictors for structual


Buildings in central cities and rental housing were also more likely to be structurally inadequate in urban areas, says Nandinee Kutty, Ph.D., assistant professor of consumer economics and housing at Cornell, with New York City ranking among the lowest on many measures. Residents with higher incomes were less likely to live in structurally inadequate housing. Controlling for several factors such as income, and elderly status reduces the probability of living in structurally inadequate housing.

"When it came to crowding, Hispanics (13 percent) and Asians (about 11 percent) were more likely to live in crowded homes, followed by blacks (5 percent) and few whites (1 percent)," said Kutty, who analyzed 1991 data on seven metropolitan areas -- Atlanta, Baltimore, New York City, St. Louis, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C. -- from the American Housing Survey of Metropolitan Areas to determine which factors influence structural adequacy and crowding. She noted, however, that some of the racial differences involving crowding may be due to more multi-generational families living together among Hispanics and Asians.

She presented her study, "Housing Quality Across Seven U.S. Metropolitan Areas," to the 1997 meeting of the American Real Estate and Urban Economics Association in New Orleans this past January.

"In 1949, Congress established the national housing goal to provide 'a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family,'" said Kutty, who teaches courses at Cornell on housing economics, urban economics and policy, and policy analysis. "Good housing is important for its beneficial impact on health and well-being. The concept of a 'decent home' implies good quality housing. In this study, I use structual adequacy and crowding as measures of housing quality to see how far we've come in achieving the housing goal."

Kutty found a wide disparity among the seven cities. New York, for example, had the highest percentage of inadequate housing (11.5 percent) compared with San Diego, Seattle and St. Louis, with only 3 percent of dwellings in those cities in inadequate condition. The highest rate of crowding was 5.4 percent in New York City, compared with only 1 percent in Seattle. When factors were controlled statistically to predict which urban area had the highest probability of crowding, San Diego emerged as the leader.

Among Kutty's other findings on structural adequacy of American metropolitan housing:

-- About 15 percent of Hispanics and 13 percent of African Americans in the seven metropolitan areas lived in structually inadequate dwellings, compared with 4 percent of whites.

-- Far more rental housing was inadequate compared with owner-occupied; 22 percent of rental housing was of inadequate quality compared with 2.5 percent of owner-occupied homes.

-- Dwellings in the central city were much more likely to be inadequate, even when factors such as income, race, education and structural type (single or multiple family) were taken into account. The most dramatic case was in New York City, where only 3 percent of the dwellings in the suburbs were structurally inadequate compared with 14 percent in the central city.

-- Multifamily buildings with less than 20 units were more likely to be structurally adequate than single-family detached homes, when income, location and form of tenure (rent vs. own) were controlled for.

Defining crowding as a dwelling with more than one person per room, Kutty also found:

-- Overall, about 3 percent of the metropolitan homes were crowded.

-- Renters were five times more likely than home owners to live in crowded homes.

-- Households with children were much more likely to be crowded than houses without children, as might be expected.

While education emerged as a factor for both structural adequacy and noncrowded housing, Kutty found that income was not a significant factor in predicting crowding. On the other hand, income was a significant factor in predicting structural adequacy.

"Whereas structural adequacy looks like it's strongly determined by economic and engineering factors, such as income and type and age of building, crowding has stronger cultural and family life-cycle determinants, such as ethnicity, education and the presence of young children," Kutty concluded.

The study was supported in part with funds from the College of Human Ecology.

Cornell University

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