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The Secret History of AMI

May 10, 2017

By Jarrett Murphy | February 17, 2016

By some measures, the AMI that New York City uses is 20 percent higher than actual median incomes in the city. That’s not surprising when you consider that median income in the Bronx in 2014 was just under $32,300, while in Putnam it was $96,000.

Others contend that a higher or lower AMI won’t change the hard math of housing costs in New York City. The real mismatch, they say, is between the increasing cost of building and maintaining housing and the stagnant incomes of many New Yorkers.

Crucially, however, the same legal language that gives Rockland and Westchester Counties their own AMIs requires that New York City’s AMI still include data from those counties. In other words, New York City data no longer drags Westchester and Rockland AMIs down, but their data still yanks NYC’s AMI up.

It gets even messier, however: AMI in New York City doesn’t directly reflect Census data about incomes. Instead, it takes the actual income statistics and inflates them to account for unusually high housing expenses in the region. And the AMIs for different family sizes aren’t based on actual data, but on estimates of how income varies among households big and small.

The impact of the AMI mismatch, critics have long said, is that the city ends up subsidizing housing that is unaffordable to the income groups facing the most severe housing crisis, and out of step with the communities in which the housing is built.

In other words, AMI causes the subsidizing of the rich, and the homelessness of the poor.


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