In the past two decades, new immigrant ethnic groups have gained greatly in political prominence, beginning with the election of the first Dominican and West Indian members of the expanded New York City Council in 1991. This shift was driven by the dramatic increase in immigration to the city since the 1970s. As of 2008, 44 percent of New York City households were headed by first-generation immigrants, and another 13 percent were headed by the children of immigrants. (See Table 1 on page 5.) In this context, immigrant organizations have become an important part of the city’s housing advocacy network.
The city’s chronic housing shortage imposes serious stresses on immigrant and non-immigrant households alike. Immigrants as a whole experience worse housing conditions than other New Yorkers. They pay a larger share of their income in rent, and they are twice as likely to live in crowded conditions. But such generalizations give a misleading picture, because the housing experiences of different immigrant groups vary so widely. These differences can be partly explained by income differences among the groups, but much of the variation also appears to result from the unique histories of the various groups in New York City.