Housing in New York City has always been influenced by a changing urban landscape, population and demographic shifts, and a class-conscious economic and social strata that determined how people lived and in what neighborhoods they chose to call home.
From the first row house or tenement building constructed in the early 19th century to the luxury high-rises that now dominate Manhattan's skyline, the problems of housing millions of urban dwellers fell to social reformers like photographers Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, among others, and then, ultimately, to the government. Private developers and architects created various housing schemes through the years to improve the squalid living conditions that the dense tenements gave rise to. The first government subsidized housing project arrived in 1935, when the New York City Housing Authority transformed 24 tenements on Avenue A and Third Streets. Eventually slum housing in neighborhood after neighborhood was torn down and replaced by federal government-subsidized low or moderate income housing, and private developers soon put their own indelible stamp on New York City's landscape with towering apartment buildings that come replete with the finest first-class amenities.
Today, the task of creating, administering and encouraging affordable housing falls to agencies like the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). HPD, under the direction of Commissioner Jerilyn Perine, not only regulates the city's existing housing stock of 3.2 million dwellings but also provides loan assistance to building owners and developers, educates owners, landlords and tenants, and enforces building code violations.
HPD is the largest municipal developer of affordable housing in the country, and over the next four years, the agency plans to spend nearly $1.5 billion to support its housing preservation aims and community development activities.
In addition, the agency acts as liaison for the city, which is trying to divest itself of large numbers of distressed buildings that will be converted to private residential housing through the use of public/private partnerships and community grants programs. The city's housing stock is also aging rapidly; 60 percent of its units were built before 1947.