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The Story Of How 100,000 Apartments In NYC Disappeared

The Story Of How 100,000 Apartments In NYC Disappeared

NEW YORK — About a decade ago, Timon Malloy encountered a problem familiar to families trying to raise two children in New York City: His apartment started to feel too small.

Many New Yorkers, facing such a dilemma, have simply left for cheaper pastures. Malloy chose a more luxurious route. He bought an apartment below his own, cut a hole in the floor, built a staircase and made his Upper West Side apartment bigger.7

“I’m fortunate to be able to afford this,” said Malloy, 62, who works in commercial real estate. He said he spent millions on renovations, and his new home is “very comfortable.”

The city’s evolution is often measured by watching luxury apartments rise or older buildings crumble. Less apparent are the changes taking place behind the facades and how those changes may be affecting one of the city’s biggest challenges — its housing shortage.

Through apartment combinations like Malloy’s, and conversions of buildings with several units into single-family homes, the city has lost more than 100,000 apartments since 1950, according to a new analysis of building records shared with The New York Times. Overall, the number of apartments in the city has grown since then, but the pace of new construction has not kept up with the growth in population and demand.

The rate of combinations ramped up in the 1990s as the city came out of an economic crisis. They were clustered in wealthier neighborhoods such as the Upper East Side and the West Village in Manhattan or Park Slope in Brooklyn, which housing experts say are the exact neighborhoods, with their easy access to transit and jobs, that should be adding many new homes.

“I’m not trying to begrudge folks who are trying to build a larger apartment as their families grow,” said Adam Brodheim, a preservationist who did the research. “I’m trying to bring attention to the way these actions across the entire city make a meaningful impact on our housing crisis.”

On some streets, many buildings that were built a century or more ago as single-family homes and split during the 1900s into multiple units have once again become single-family homes. In the row houses on West 88th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Columbus Avenue, there are about 173 units. That compares with more than 400 units on the same street in the 1950s and 1960s, according to Brodheim, who is also a member of Open New York, a nonprofit that advocates for more development.

Sometimes the combinations have been celebrated as an act of restoration.

The Story Of How 100,000 Apartments In NYC Disappeared

Take, for example, the Greenwich Village town house where actress Brooke Shields lives, which had been divided into eight apartments before she bought it and restored it to become a single-family house.

In an interview with the Times last year, Shields said that she wanted to give her daughters an experience similar to the one she had growing up on the Upper East Side.

“This had been a dream for me because I wanted my kids to have what I had had with my house on the Upper East Side: to have a feeling of neighborhood, and to have the space which is so hard to come by and so expensive in New York,” Shields told the Times. “We looked everywhere, but one place was more depressing than the next.”

The house had originally been built as a single-family home.

Shields could not be reached for comment.

Then there are situations like the one at 12 E. 72nd St., which about 20 years ago had 23 apartments. In 2002, Steve Croman, a landlord frequently criticized for his aggressive posture toward tenants, bought the six-story building for $5.5 million.

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