Westchester and Long Island Build at Same Pace as Detroit, Hudson County Booms: 2014 in Regional Housing Permit Approvals

Last month, YIMBY brought you a report on New York City’s permit filings. Now, with the Census Bureau building permit numbers in, we can summarize the apparent state of approvals throughout the metropolitan area. The picture is fairly grim in counties across the region – Long Island, and Westchester County in particular, have completely shirked their responsibility to shoulder any growth – with New Jersey’s Hudson County emerging as far and away the biggest builder.

During the run-up to the last market peak, permit approvals across the metropolitan area were increasingly concentrated within the five boroughs, with numbers outside of the city peaking in 2005 and then falling as the market took off. But the balance of production shifted dramatically after 2008, and ever since, the majority of units permitted have been in the region’s suburban counties.

New Jersey is carrying the most weight when it comes to meeting the regional demand for housing. Hudson and Union counties permitted more housing units in 2014 than in any year since the Census started collecting records in 1980, while Bergen County had its best permit year since 1988. For every 1,000 residents, Hudson County approved building permits for 7.1 housing units – on par with the Orlando or Charlotte metropolitan areas.

In Hudson County, Secaucus, Weekhawken, and Harrison led the pack in per capita approvals, authorizing the construction of between 30 and 35 new housing units for every 1,000 residents. Jersey City approved the most in absolute terms, with 2,180 units authorized.

In Union County, the borough of New Providence, with its 12,332 residents and two New Jersey Transit stops, led in per capita permits, with 41 units approved for every 1,000 residents – more than they’d issued every year over the prior two decades combined.

Long Island and Westchester’s numbers, on the other hand, were more like Detroit’s: each of the three counties approved applications for fewer than one housing unit for every 1,000 residents. New York’s closest in-state suburbs were never fast growers, but they were rarely this slow – while counties in New Jersey set records in 2014, annual permitting rates were down two-thirds or more in Westchester and Suffolk from the 2000s peak, and off by more than half in Nassau County.

To the north, Rockland and Orange counties in New York and Fairfield County in Connecticut do a bit better, but are still growing at a pitiful rate, permitting two or fewer housing units per 1,000 residents.

New York City’s housing growth rate sits somewhere in between, on par with other increasingly unaffordable and in-demand coastal cities like San Francisco and Boston. With 2.4 units permitted per 1,000 residents, the five boroughs don’t keep up with the national average, and fall impossibly far from what would needed to truly keep up with demand.

Manhattan does the best, meeting the national rate of 3.3 units permitted per 1,000 residents, but all of the outer boroughs fall short, ranging from 2.9 units in Brooklyn to 1.3 in the Bronx.

A total of 20,483 units were approved throughout the five boroughs in 2014, up from 17,995 the year before but still well below the pre-crash peak in 2008, when 33,911 units were permitted.

Curiously, the discrepancy between applications submitted to the DOB and the Census’ official numbers increased dramatically year-over-year. Per the YIMBY Report, 2013 saw 22,915 units submitted versus 2014’s 44,825, with the number almost doubling – perhaps not reflected in the Census’s approval numbers due to increasingly long approval times at the Department of Buildings, or a flood of filings at the end of 2014, submitted in time to avoid dealing with an uncertain new building code.

What emerges is a picture of a region with desperately low housing approval rates. Not only is New York City falling further behind the national average for new construction, but the in-state suburbs have essentially walled themselves off to any growth at all. North Jersey, and Hudson County in particular, are taking responsibility for meeting an inordinate amount of the region’s demand, but Hudson County alone cannot solve this crisis.

The demand for housing is regional, and any solutions must be as well. New York City may be waking to the necessity of upping its numbers – something the de Blasio administration has pledged to do, albeit not by nearly enough – but Long Island and Westchester especially must wake up to the housing crisis and do their fair share to build.

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