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Food Insecurity

“When we think of Brooklyn we think of it as a foodie paradise; we think of the beautiful brownstones and we think of the high-rises. And the view from the high-rises is need.” – Margarette Purvis, chief executive of the Food Bank (Brooklyn’s Food Gap By GINIA BELLAFANTE SEPT. 9, 2016 NYT)

Food security means access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Food insecurity, a federal measurement, means a household has limited or uncertain access to adequate food. [1]

  • Brooklyn has the highest rate of food insecurity in NYC at 20% of its population. [1]
  • Nearly 48.1 million United States residents, or 15.4%, are food insecure.
  • Over 2.6 million New York State residents, or 13.5%, are food insecure.
  • More than 1.3 million New York City residents, or 16.4%, are food insecure.
  • New York City residents make up over half (51%) of all food insecure people living in New York State.
  • New York City’s food insecurity rate is 6 percent higher than the national rate, and 21.5% higher than the New York State rate. [2]
  • Brooklyn is the borough with the highest rate of food insecurity at 20%. [3]

Meal Gap

The Meal Gap, New York City’s official measure of food insecurity, represents the meals missing from the homes of families and individuals struggling with food insecurity — that is, when household food budgets fall too short to secure adequate, nutritious food year-round. Factors like poverty and local food costs determine how big a city’s meal gap is. The meal gap in North Brooklyn (the neighborhoods of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bushwick) ranges from 11 meals to 0.9 meals, depending on the survey area. Hunger is mapped in the following survey areas: community districts, neighborhood, City Council districts, State Assembly districts, and State Senator districts. See to view maps of the meal gap for all of NYC. [4]

Emergency Food [5]

An estimated 1.4 million New York City residents rely on emergency food programs, including soup kitchens and food pantries, each year.

  • Approximately 339,000 New York City children, or about 1 out of every 5 (19%), rely on soup kitchens and food pantries.
  • Approximately 604,770 New York City adult women, or about 1 out of every 6 (17%), rely on soup kitchens and food pantries.
  • Approximately 204,000 New York City seniors, or about 1 out of every 5 (20%), rely on soup kitchens and food pantries.
  • Approximately 70,000 New York City veterans, or about 3 out of every ten (30%) rely on soup kitchens and food pantries.
  • CityMeals (the NYC version of Meals on Wheels) serves meals to over 18,000 homebound seniors
  • 60% of the recipients of CityMeals are over 80 years old and 1/3 live below the poverty line


SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a federal program that offers nutrition assistance to low-income individuals and families. It is commonly referred to as Food Stamps. 23,501 households & 42,723 individuals in Bushwick receive SNAP benefits. 23,204 households & 59,796 individuals in Williamsburg/Greenpoint receive SNAP benefits. Figures are from October 2011, the latest year’s data available at this time. [6]

Housing Instability

“Nothing more clearly expresses the inequality gap…than the soaring cost of housing” – Mayor Bill DeBlasio, 2015 State of the City Speech

With unemployment lower in Brooklyn than in the Bronx and no meaningful difference in the growth of food costs between the two boroughs, researchers found, housing cost was the primary cause of food sacrifice.

Gentrification, displacement, & rent increases

Average rent increases in Brooklyn neighborhoods from 1990 to 2010-2014 are 30%. In contrast, the neighborhoods of Greeenpoint & Williamsburg have seen the greatest increase citywide at 78.7%. In Bushwick, the increase is 44%. Average rents in Greenpoint & Williamsburg were between $751 and $1,000 in 1990, but have risen to over $1,250 across all of the neighborhood’s census tracts, averaging around $3,000 for many apartments. College graduates, less than 30 percent of Greenpoint/Williamsburg’s population in 1990, are now greater than 50 percent. And Williamsburg’s Latino population has decreased by at least 22% in recent years. Other indicators hint that life has become more difficult for low-income residents living in gentrifying areas. Rent burden has increased more dramatically in these areas than in the rest of the city, and likewise the number of low-income rental units have “declined the most in gentrifying areas.” On the whole, the city’s population is continuing to shift and taking a beating when it comes to “rent pressures,” but the Furman report concludes that these changes are “magnified in gentrifying areas.” [7]

Since the North Brooklyn waterfront was rezoned from industrial to residential use, the Hispanic population has decreased by 22%, the total foreign-born population has decreased by over 10%, median rent burdens for low- income tenants have increased by 6%, and tenant organizers have seen an increase in illegal evictions, landlord harassment, rent overcharge cases and landlords withdrawing their apartments from rent stabilization. [8]

Lack of affordable housing

More than 87,000 New Yorkers applied for just 104 subsidized apartments — about 836 applicants for each apartment — in a new building that’s part of the Domino Sugar Factory redevelopment, according to builders. There are just 104 affordable-rate apartments in the building, at 325 Kent Ave. That means if you applied for a $596-per-month luxury studio in Prime Williamsburg, you have about a 0.1 percent chance of getting it. [9]

Meanwhile, of the 7,218 total units built since the rezoning, only 700 (or less than 10%) have been new affordable housing units. [10]


“We have more poor people in Brooklyn than the entire population of Detroit; we have more people on food stamps than the entire population of Washington, D.C.,” Gelber said. “Yet there are more wealthy people than in Greenwich, Conn.” –Marilyn Gelber, Brooklyn Community Foundation (NY Daily News Aug 22, 2012)

The federal poverty level is $20,160 annually for a household of three.

  • 13.5%, or approximately 43.1 million United States residents, are living below the federal poverty level.
  • 15.4%, or nearly 3 million New York State residents, are living below the federal poverty level, 14.1% above the national poverty rate.
  • 20%, or approximately 1.68 million New York City residents, are living below the federal poverty level.
  • New York City’s poverty rate is approximately 48% above the federal poverty rate, and nearly 30% above the New York State poverty rate.
  • New York City residents make up more than half (nearly 57%) of all New Yorkers in poverty. [11]
  • The poverty rate in North Brooklyn’s poorest neighborhoods range from 30-40%

According to the Citizens’ Committee for Children (CCC), Community District 1 of Brooklyn (Greenpoint/Williamsburg) has the highest child poverty rate out of all 59 New York City districts, with 55% of the children in our neighborhood living below the poverty line. New York City’s overall child poverty rate is 30%, by comparison. In a block-by-block analysis, the heaviest concentration is in the south, on the blocks just north of its Flushing Avenue border. These numbers were part of CCC’s biannual “Keeping Track Database,” which was released in February 2013. The city’s second and third most impoverished neighborhoods for children are, respectively, University Heights in the Bronx and Brownsville in eastern Brooklyn. The 55% child poverty cited in the study came from a single year of data collected by the U.S. Census., which Courtney Wolf –a Senior Policy Associate for Research and Data Analysis with CCC – warns may be too small a sample size to accurately gauge concrete truths about the neighborhood. However, even on the larger sample of the 3-year trending average (2009-2011), District 1’s 49% child poverty rate is still 20% higher than the city as a whole. [12]

Nearly 20% of Brooklyn households have an income of $100,000 or more per year; more than 20% of borough residents live in poverty. In Bushwick, 32% of the households fall under the poverty line. This makes Bushwick the 7th poorest neighborhood in NYC. About 75% of the children are born into poverty in this neighborhood. [13]


  1. Food Bank for New York City, “New York City’s Meal Gap 2016 Trends Report”
  2. US: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2016 NYS & NYC: Map the Meals Gap (2014). Feeding America. 2016
  3. “Brooklyn’s Food Gap” by Ginia Bellafante New York Times Sept 9, 2016
  4. Food Bank For New York City analysis based on Gundersen, C., A. Dewey, A. Crumbaugh, M. Kato & E. Engelhard. Map the Meal Gap 2016: Food Insecurity and Child Food Insecurity Estimates at the County Level. Feeding America, 2016. The meal gap is a metric developed for Feeding America by food insecurity expert Dr. Craig Gundersen of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  5. Hunger’s New Normal: Redefining Emergency in Post Recession New York City. Food Bank For New York City. 2012.
  6. New York City Human Resources Administration, District Resource Statement Fiscal and Service Reports
  7. NYU Furman Center’s 15th annual State of New York City’s Housing and Neighborhoods in 2015 report
  8. Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, 2012; Stabrowski, 2014
  9. “87,000 People Applied for 104 Subsidized Apartments at Domino Development” Gwynne Hogan Feb 15, 2017
  10. Office of Councilmember Brad Lander, 2013
  11. 2015 American Community Survey. U.S. Census Bureau. 2016.
  12. Greenpoint Gazette Feb 22, 2013