The number of homeless students in New York City rose last school year to reach 76,816, according to new data from the city. That figure is up 16 percent over the 66,003 homeless students in the 2010–2011 year. Most of the students share housing with another family, sleeping on couches or floors.
Experts say the increase is thanks to the lingering effects of Hurricane Sandy, a still struggling economy, rising rents, and better record keeping.
Costly housing options are an increasingly pressing issue in New York City, where median rent eats up nearly 40 percent of median income, far above the threshold that is considered affordable. The same dynamic is true across the country as well. Average rents are 3.4 percent higher now than last year and have risen nearly 15 percent since 1990, adjusted for inflation. Half of renters are paying more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing.
Alongside this trend is a lack of affordable apartments. Nationally, low-income renters making $15,000 or less (more than 80 percent of whom are currently paying too large a share of their earnings on rent) would have to find housing that costs less than $375 to make it affordable. Yet the median cost of housing built in the last four years is more than $1,000, and just 5 percent of units cost less than $400. There are 11.8 million low-income renters for the 6.9 million affordable units in the country. At the same time, sequestration’s budget cuts last year meant that about 70,000 fewer low-income families got vouchers to help cover the cost of rent.
And incomes aren’t rising enough to help cover the increasing costs. While rents rose 15 percent since 1990, median household income has gone up by zero percent.
Given that so many families struggle to afford housing, it’s little wonder that New York City isn’t the only place seeing an increase in homeless students. More than 1 million students were homeless in the 2011–2012 school year, a record high. And while things are bad in New York, they are even worse in Indiana, where the number of homeless students has more than doubled since before the recession, one of the largest increases over that period. Overall, more than 600,000 Americans of all ages are homeless on a given night.