An Unintended Consequence of a Housing Database?

A recent Times article describes a new interactive database put together by NYU that lets you track all subsidized housing in the city.

As the article makes clear, this database performs a variety of worthwhile functions — allowing renters or buyers to locate affordable housing; letting affordable-housing advocates keep track of when subsidized buildings are scheduled to potentially lose their subsidized status; etc.

There’s one potential function the article didn’t mention, however. Am I a cynic (or a jerk, or maybe just a realist) for thinking that this database will also be used by renters and homebuyers eager to avoid neighborhoods that have a lot of subsidized housing?

Basil White

I used "distance from nearest check-cashing center" as a variable in my meta-analysis for buying my first house.


Well if they are dumb enough to want to pay more rent instead of less, let them be dumb and prejudiced.


I would use it to avoid subsidized housing near my apartment, in conjunction with other factors. I also use Google maps as a proxy to locate high concentrations of pawnshops, check cashing stores and payday loan businesses, and bars. I avoid those areas. Happily, Walmarts* and dollar stores are zoned well away from residential, but if they weren't, I would factor that in.

Another good trick is to use to find the more expensive neighborhoods, and live near, but not in them. I currently live withing walking distance of a private club and golf course, so it has worked well for me.

*Known hive of scum and villiany.


That's really the (non?) story here - there are lots of ways to locate and avoid bad neighborhoods. This one is probably less useful that the other parameters you listed.

"Known hive of scum and villiany"

If you're ever in the Dallas area, check out the Wal-Mart at Park and the Tollway in Plano. The parking lot could be mistaken for a BMW/Mercedes dealership. I've seen at least two professional athletes there - maybe more, but only two I was absolutely certain of (several pro athletes and more than a few high rollers from the business world live in an adjacent neighborhood). No, it isn't representative, but it's amusing to see because it's so far off the stereotype.


Subsidized housing is typically not too difficult to spot visually in my experience. I can't imagine the database being that much more useful.


You are no cynic. My wife and I just looked at a house that we like. We ended up offering on a different house though, primarily because the house across the street was a rental property operated by the department of housing. We want to live in a neighborhood with a sense of community. Rental properties tend to turn over more often, and it is hard to get to know your neighbors when they move out at the end of their lease every year.

John B

You are neither a cynic nor a jerk.

Why shouldn't someone making one of the most important decisions of his/her life (where they will live) use this information as to potential effects on their houses or apartments.

If you are a homebuyer putting down your life savings on a property, you should be able to decide whether government controlled or subsidized housing may affect the value of your property (and your enjoyment) in the future.

Based on the information given on this site--it may actually encourage people to buy or rent in those neighborhoods.

However, the implication that anyone who uses such information to make an informed choice is acting wrongfully is ridiculous.


1) Owners tend to make for better neighbors than renters. Renters have little incentive to really keep their place up, and has already been mentioned, are more transient.

2) Subsidized housing implies occupants with more limited resources. Rich people will pay a premium not to live near not-so-rich people.

All this database does is make is easier to figure out where one would want to live.

Enter your name...

"Owners tend to make for better neighbors than renters."

Having been both, I'm not sure that's true: I put the same effort into keeping up the condo that I own as I put into keeping up the very similar places that I've rented.

Turnover differs on average, but most renters don't move every year. I've moved an average of once every six years throughout my adult life, regardless of whether I was renting or buying.

Also, length of tenancy cuts both ways: If the owner next door is a jerk, you're likely to be stuck with him longer than you would with a tenant. That's not an advantage in my books.


I wonder if there has been any change in the "Owners better than Renters" paradigm now that so many houses are underwater. As an underwater homeowner, I don't have much to spend on repairs or improvements. When I rented, I just called my landlord and asked for the repairs (which s/he was contractually obligated to provide). Not that I don't maintain my home, but it certainly takes a greater effort and expenditure now that I am an owner.


This doesn't make any sense. The Sierra - on 15th street between 6th and 7th -- is one of the most expensive apartment buildings in Manhattan. Studios run $3875 a month. Why would that be listed here?

Mike B

That same information is also available through this awesome service called "eyesight".

Down in Baltimore there has been a huge push to try to make neighborhoods safer by installing CCTV cameras with bright blue flashing lights that let drug dealers et al know that the police are (in theory) watching. Well all it does, besides keeping people up at night with a bright flashing blue light, is to stigmatize high crime areas. Want to know if you are in a high crime area? Look for the blue light camera! The problem is that the stigma of a camera will cause anyone that might conduct non-crime activity move away leaving only criminals behind.

Andrew Krause

The rich, no. The price point they buy houses at already puts them at a distance to section 8 neighborhoods. Its the middle-class that will use this and other data to locate in bracketed enclaves of their fellow bourgeoise.


I'm a country boy, but I would think that in an open market, that might be a piece of data that is already factored in, at least when it has relevant impact and the market is intelligent. No one out here purchases by a super fund site or a highway overpass or a trailer park blindly. And I suppose if they did, the market would correct their judgement. Maybe not under the Greater Fool theorem :-)


You’re probably right, a lot of people do things like that, but to be clear, it IS a jerk thing to do. You’d be making the prejudiced assumption/generalization that people in subsidized housing make worse neighbors than people who can afford un-subsidized housing. Now, you may have statistics to back that up, but that doesn’t make it a fair judgment of the people in those neighborhoods.
I’m sure you could find statistics that show that on average, majority black neighborhoods are worse places to live than majority white ones, but that doesn’t mean it’s not racist to avoid living near black people.

Van Colombo

Database may be new, the idea is not though. We always find information about the neighborhood before moving in as a tenant or as a landlord.

This database tool has made our information gathering bit easy that's all. No one's a jerk but a smart individual or a caring parent. Why should we get in to a mess knowingly? Even the people living in subsidized area will gladly moved out if they can afford. Simple as that.


Unfortunately areas with a lot of subsidized housing also tend to be a hotbed for the "have nots" of our society. It is sad and depressing.


You may be a cynic/jerk/realist, but I'm an asshole because I would totally consider using this information to make a decision of where to buy a home.