How NYC 311 Pays Attention to the Poor

On a recent trip to New York City a friend of mine made the comment that city officials seem to prioritize the needs of the city’s ultra-wealthy over those most reliant upon city services. In my time researching NYC’s service delivery mechanisms I’ve found this sentiment to be completely untrue.

I’ve condensed a more readable version of a deep-dive I conducted into the subject back in 2015, the full report can be found on my website.


3 Interesting Results

  • If a service request is made in a wealthier neighborhood, then those incidents hold a marginally higher chance of going unresolved
  • Incidents assigned to the departments of Parks & Recreation or Health & Mental Hygiene have the worst resolution rates amongst all city agencies
  • In the 6-month period, there was a service request made for every 9 NYC residents with a total resolution rate of 97.44%

By all accounts the face of NYC service delivery did an outstanding job, no matter who made the request, or what it was.

NYC 311 Development

Under former-Mayor Michael Bloomberg NYC launched its own program in March of 2003 — now the largest in the world, NYC 311 accommodates 180+ languages, integrating with 300 city agencies, and fields over 50,000 call per day.

NYC 311 has answered over 158 million calls to date, 22.2 million more than the next 26 largest systems combined.

Research Methodology

In addition, incidents within a 500-foot radius of New York Housing Authority Developments (NYCHA) have been segmented to evaluate service response time to those most reliant upon them.

Due to the incredible volume of the NYC 311 system, this analysis will focus on a 6-month snapshot in time — January 1, 2015 through June 30, 2015. An additional 3-month grace period has been applied through September 30, 2015 to allow for service resolution of late-term requests.

Data Sources

  • NYC Open Data Portal: 311 Service Requests (call data), Borough Boundaries, NYCHA Developments, Street Centerlines, 2010 Census Tracts
  • American Community Survey (2013): All Borough Populations, All Country Household Income


Before breaking down the findings its prudent to describe the impact a magnitude of change represents in this dataset. Due to the quantity of requests into the system, even a 1.00% difference is equivalent to over 9,000 incident reports — small percentages = big numbers.

Service Adoption & Volume

In almost every case the NYC 311 system received substantially more of its volume from lower income populations; however, when adjusted for population density a more consistent usage rate is prevalent.

Staten Island ($145,084–250,000+) volume was 138.60% — it was excluded from the chart above to decrease extreme outliers impacting the legibility of the above chart.

Noticeably high usage is found in the following areas:

  1. Staten Island, $145,084–250,000: 138.60%
  2. Brooklyn, $145,084–250,000: 19.08%
  3. Bronx, NYCHA Developments: 18.79%

Service Resolution Rate

  1. Higher Income Areas = Lower Resolution Rates
  2. Lower Income Areas = Higher Resolution Rates

After accounting for the underlying population changes, plotting a General QQ Plot chart, and mapping the relationships to area income levels we find a hypothesis confirming result.

There is a definitive positive trend between increasing income levels and decreasing resolution rates.

Succinctly, incidents located in the highest income levels hold a 48.60% higher chance of remaining unresolved than those originating in the lowest income levels.

NYCHA Developments hold a comparative resolution rate to that of the city-wide average; therefore, the housing developments actually receive better overall service than high income areas.

Household Density

We cannot take this result at face value. In fact, by further scrutinizing the underlying population of these density zones show the lowest 3 levels of household density hold 86.00% of the city’s population.

By repeating the General QQ Plot for both total request volume and non-resolved requests no discernible relationship can be drawn between request volume and household density.

Responsible Agency Performance

Abnormally low resolution rates (orange) and agencies bearing the most burden (green) have been highlighted.

The Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) stood out with a 60% resolution rate, ~30% below the median rate. In fact, DPR is responsible for 41.64% of all outstanding unresolved service requests. Many things might explain this fact, some examples: longer service completion timelines, environmental impact assessments, etc.

The Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) was another standout with a 72.74% resolution rate. Similar to DPR, DOHMH was responsible for a large portion of outstanding requests, 31.21%.

DPR and DOHMH bear the joint responsibility of 72.85% of all NYC 311 requests listed as unresolved in the period examined. The two agencies only account for 5.59% of all incident reports, further signaling them out for potential underperformance.

Congratulations is owed to the agencies most burdened with NYC 311 requests, they are among those with the highest resolution rates in the city.


  • NYCHA residents use the NYC 311 service at a higher rate with comparable performance to city-wide averages
  • When controlling for underlying population, NYC 311 s usage at similar rates regardless of population income levels
  • Household density has little impact on NYC 311 resolution rates
  • Residents in the highest income levels are 48.60% more likely to have incidents go unresolved compared to those in the lowest income level
  • Agencies responsible for the most service requests hold the highest performance — noticeable under-performers are DPR and DOHMH

Further Study

After reformatting this preliminary data (2015), results for the same 6-month period as this analysis were as follows:

  • 69,975 total app requests vs. 925,391 call-in requests
  • 71.17% app resolution rate vs. 97.44% call-in resolution rate
  • iOS devices accounted for ~70% of all app requests
  • Brooklyn (34.07%) and Manhattan (27.17%) were by far the highest users of the native apps

Since tracking inception in 2013, all native NYC 311 mobile applications received 217,941 (ending June 2015). In the 6-months of this analysis, the NYC 311 call-in centers fielded 4.25x that volume.

Articles Referenced

Marc LaVorgna, Kamran Mumtaz, and Nick Sbordone. “Mayor Bloomberg Commemorates Ten Years of NYC311, The Nation’s Largest and Most Comprehensive 311 Service.” New York City Government (2013).

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