Is New York City Immune from the Housing Crisis?

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An artist's rendering of Vornado Realty Trust's proposed 67-story building (right), which would rival the nearby Empire State Building (left)

REUTERS/Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects/Handout

As the rest of the nation clamors about a potential double dip in real estate sales, the biggest building issue in the Big Apple revolves around the preservation of its skyline centerpiece.

The New York Times reports that despite cries from the Empire State Building’s owners, the city has approved the presence of a tower blocks away that will rise to within 34 feet of the current city fixture. The vote passed by a commanding 47-1 margin, with supporters rallying around the new realtor’s desire to improve commerce around a major transportation hub: Penn Station.

As New York wallows in its battle of skyscraper titans, thoughts of the recession are reverberating across the rest of the country. Sales of existing homes fell 27% in July, marking the most sluggish period for single-family home sales since May 1995.

So why is Manhattan tiptoeing past the crunch? One possible cause is that residents are filling spaces without major commitments. Recent studies show that New York is the most favorable locale for renting. Other cities have been decimated by foreclosures, creating circumstances where it’s simpler to buy than rent. But as bank accounts flatten without a steady flow of income, that’s not always an option.

When it comes to jobs, New York is also rebounding at a faster clip. The Times’ figures show that America’s largest city has experienced a drop in unemployment for the past seven months straight. James Brown, a principal economist for New York state’s labor department, told the Times that the city has “been showing smaller losses and now bigger gains every month throughout the downturn.”

In turn, the local government seems prepared to add the structure for both its housing and job markets, regardless of what it does to the caché of current panoramas.