Undergrads Win Recognition for Policy Proposal to Ease NYC’s Housing Shortage

Public Policy Majors

A team of undergraduate students majoring in Public Policy won “Best Panel Presentation” at New York University’s annual Undergraduate Research Conference on May 5. Jeremy Cheung, Aaron Reuben, William Wang, and Tiffany Wong captured the recognition of excellence for their policy proposal for a new path toward ameliorating New York City’s housing shortage.

The students’ extensive research was supported by a grant from the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund at the College of Arts and Science (CAS). The undergraduate Public Policy major at CAS is jointly offered and administered by NYU Wagner.

The team found that cities such as San Francisco and Portland have been successful in allowing property owners to build new legal dwellings—known as Accessory Dwelling Units—in their basement, garage, or adjacent lot. The students concluded that ADU’s, if facilitated by zoning changes, would add as many as 30,000 units to New York City’s housing stock, which lacks an adequate supply of affordable rentals.

ADU’s have little or no impact on the physical character of a neighborhood as they do not require construction of taller, multi-unit apartment buildings. In addition to providing relatively affordable housing, they offer a source of income for the property owner who creates one.

“ADU’s are an opportunity,” explained Wang. “In Portland, the housing budget was slashed in 2010 because of the Recession, so they had to come up with unique ways to deal with their housing shortage and help low-income and homeless populations. So they allowed ADU’s.” The change, he said, spawned more than 2,000 new units in a city with one-sixth the number of residents as New York.

Wang, a senior who interned with the city government, said the students want the policy proposal to be given serious consideration by city policy makers, planners, and elected representatives, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, in light of his goal of expanding the affordable housing stock. “We don’t want this idea to remain just an idea,” he said.

Any and all NYU undergraduates were invited to present their research at the College of Arts and Science’s 43rd annual Undergraduate Research Conference. Student projects in connection with a course or as independent or supervised study were showcased and evaluated.

Back in April, the team reached the final round of the separate NYU Policy Case Competition, finishing among the top four out of 160 proposals submitted.