Report: Using 311 complaints to explore the quality-of-life impacts of COVID-19

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

By: Amanda Kerins, MHNA Quality of Life Committee



Report: Using 311 complaints to explore the quality-of-life impacts of COVID-19









Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all our lives in many ways, especially here in Manhattan. One way we can view impacts of the pandemic on quality of life is through the lens of NYC311 data, which is used to log complaints with the city. What have MHNA residents been complaining about during the pandemic, compared to their complaints pre-pandemic?

To answer this question, NYC311 complaint data was accessed from the NYC Open Data Portal (link) and a custom map boundary was created to filter complaints to those within the MHNA neighborhood service area. The Murray Hill Neighborhood Association serves the area from 42nd to 26th Street and 5th Avenue to the East River, which includes Murray Hill, Kips Bay, and Rose Hill. The areas within these boundaries will hereinafter be referred to as the neighborhood and residents within these boundaries will be referred to as MHNA residents.

For the purposes of this analysis, complaint data from the first year of the pandemic (March 2020 through February 2021) will be compared to the previous year (March 2019 through February 2020) to understand the impact of the pandemic on quality of life. However, when relevant, full calendar years will also be evaluated.

Top Complaints

Compared to the top complaints from March 2019 through February 2020 (pre-pandemic) and the five-year historical average, the first year of the pandemic (March 2020 through February 2021) brought a shift in the distribution of the top 311 complaints made within the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association service area. The most noticeable difference is the sheer number of helicopter noise complaints, representing 17% of the total 311 complaints made within the association’s boundary during the pandemic.

 Noise has always been a top complaint in the neighborhood, but the complaints during the pandemic have shifted from general noise complaints (predominantly construction noise) to residential noise complaints such as noisy neighbors, possibly due to an increase in time spent at home during lockdowns and remote work.

Homeless issues continue to secure a top spot in complaints for our neighborhood. Total homeless-related complaints are up 21% from pre-pandemic times, following several years of decreasing homeless complaints in our neighborhood.

The pandemic also brought new complaints related to non-compliance with the phased reopening, social distancing, and mask ordinances.

Fig 1. Top 311 complaint types in MHNA.

Noise

Noise has always been a prominent issue for MHNA residents (e.g. 2018 neighborhood survey), but the pandemic has altered the nature of noise disturbances. Not only have the general types of noise complaints changed, the hourly distributions of complaints have shifted as well.

Fig 2. Hourly distribution of all noise complaints (including residential and helicopter).

Helicopter Noise

Helicopter noise has been an evolving concern in the neighborhood (Fig 3) and has risen to the number one 311 complaint from MHNA residents (Fig 1), showing no signs of slowdown in 2021 (Fig 4). Based on all helicopter noise complaints from Community Districts 5 and 6 in 2020 helicopter noise seems to dominantly affect the neighborhood south of 34th Street (Fig 5).

Fig 3. Total Helicopter complaints per month from 2018-2020.

Fig 4. Total Helicopter complaints per month, Jan - Mar 2021.

Fig 5. A heatmap allows us to visualize the density of complaints across the district. This figure shows the density of complaints over Districts 5 and 6 in 2020, which includes complaints outside of the MHNA boundary, as the helicopter issue affects the surrounding neighborhoods as well. A darker red indicates a higher density of complaints.

Parking

The pandemic brought a total reduction in illegal parking complaints, with a significant reduction across all days of the week (Fig 6). Posted Parking Sign Violations were the most common type of illegal parking complaints, both before and during the pandemic, followed by Blocked Bike Lane. Complaints reached a low in April 2021 (Fig 7), but have steadily increased since, suggesting that parking issues are returning as an important concern in the area after a temporary reduction.

Fig 6. Change in total parking complaints by day of week (Monday = 0, Sunday = 6) compared to the pre-pandemic period.

Fig 7. Total parking complaints per month in MHNA from 2018-2020. 

Emergent Complaints

In addition to changing trends in neighborhood complaint categories, we saw several new complaint types emerge during the pandemic. These emergent complaints were primarily reported from Apr-Jun 2020, during the early pandemic period. Non-Emergency Police Matter complaints (Fig 8) included 515 Social Distancing and 96 Face Covering Violation complaints during the pandemic period. In addition to Non-Emergency Police Matter complaints, there were 776 complaints regarding Noncompliance with Phased Reopening, 80 complaints regarding COVID-19 Non-essential Construction, and 37 Mass Gathering complaints.

Fig 8. Non-Emergency Police Matter complaints from 2018-2020.

Homeless

After an all-time high of homeless complaints in 2016, the neighborhood saw several years of steady improvement in this area (Fig 9). However, the pandemic saw a resurgence in these complaints, which were primarily  requests for Homeless Person Assistance. Per the NYC311 website, The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) will send a mobile outreach response team within 8 hours in response to a Homeless Person Assistance request to encourage the person to accept services.

Fig 9. Total homeless complaints within MHNA boundary from 2010-2020.

Summary

While NYC311 complaints do not capture the full scope of issues facing the community served by MHNA, they do offer insight into the day-to-day challenges facing our neighborhood. By examining the data, we can see that the pandemic has changed the overall type and quantity of complaints in a variety of ways. As the city moves forward into the next chapter of this saga, following the trends in NYC311 data will help us continue to best address the needs of our community.

Updated April 10, 2021