Report finds growing number of NYCHA residents starting businesses, but still need more city support

A new report released by the Center for an Urban Future calls on Mayor Adams and city government officials to increase support for the growing number of entrepreneurs living in social housing in New York City.

The study, released March 29, finds that more residents living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) housing are becoming business owners and that by helping NYCHA residents start businesses and get started in larger companies, this could potentially provide a crucial revenue boost. This opportunity would provide increased income for NYCHA residents, also among the hardest hit by the economic downturn during the pandemic.

Especially at a time when people living in public housing are experiencing extreme economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation-sponsored report found that business ownership rates among residents of NYCHA have grown 472% over the past decade.

Additionally, the study found that thousands of other NYCHA residents derive income from a side business or home-based business – particularly in areas such as catering, hosting parties, fashion design , babysitting, music production, personal care services and carpentry.

However, the study also revealed that there is still untapped potential to increase business enterprises within NYCHA residential communities. According to the report, even after this spike in self-employed entrepreneurial activity, less than 1% of NYCHA residents report income from a business – only 636 out of nearly 300,000 working-age residents living in public housing in all the city.

“It’s time to make NYCHA part of the city’s efforts to grow its entrepreneurial economy,” said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Center for an Urban Future. “There’s an entrepreneurial spirit that runs through every NYCHA building. Harnessing that energy and helping more residents succeed as business owners should be part of the city’s strategy to help public housing residents to recover from the heavy economic toll of the pandemic.

In the past, city officials and leaders have done little to support the growing entrepreneurial endeavors of NYCHA residents, despite support for business ventures from other New Yorkers.

For example, while the report credits the de Blasio administration with launching NYCHA’s Business Pathways program, which supports aspiring entrepreneurs living in public housing, fewer than 400 residents have graduated since 2015.

The report also found that the city government is currently missing a critical opportunity to remove some of the biggest barriers to entrepreneurial success among NYCHA residents. Currently, many NYCHA residents fear that even moderate success in their business ventures will cause their NYCHA rental costs to increase.

This fear stems from NYCHA’s policy set forth by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requiring that the cash value of savings and checking accounts be included in calculations for determining the price of rent.

The report urges Mayor Adams and city government officials to make promoting entrepreneurship among NYCHA residents a component of his broader pandemic recovery plan. This includes setting a goal of building 2,500 new NYCHA entrepreneurs over the next five years.

Some recommendations for policy makers include launching new startup competitions in NYCHA developments to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit that runs through NYCHA and help support the most promising social housing entrepreneurs, expanding the Business Pathways program and the creation of a new Business Pathways program for aspiring entrepreneurs in the creative industries, removing the disincentive for NYCHA residents to become entrepreneurs by dramatically increasing enrollment in the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, creating a fund NYCHA Business Credit Facility to facilitate the provision of microloans to NYCHA entrepreneurs and by establishing new NYCHA worker cooperatives.

To learn more about the report, visit New York’s Untapped Entrepreneurship Opportunity.

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