Everything you need to know about NYC’s affordable housing
Believe it or not, it was only
seven years ago that the city’s affordable
housing application process went digital. The website, NYC
Housing Connect, launched in 2012, and since then has made it
easier—in theory—for New Yorkers to apply for affordable
apartments in buildings across the five boroughs.
Of course, while applying for an affordable apartment itself is
easy, actually getting an apartment is not. As New York’s
prices skyrocket and the demand for cheap housing grows
ever-higher, more and more people are applying for the few
affordable apartments available in qualifying buildings. The first
rental within the Domino Sugar redevelopment, for example,
received 87,000 applications for just 104 apartments.
That may have you feeling some despair about your chances of
actually snagging one of these coveted apartments—and hey,
we’re not going to pretend like one will magically fall into your
lap. But still, it’s worth a shot if you’re looking for an
affordable place to live.
Here’s everything you need to know about applying, what to
expect, and more.
Who handles New York City’s affordable housing?
Developers are given incentives by the city and state, such as
tax breaks, to create affordable apartments through programs like
“Affordable New York” (the replacement for the former 421-a
incentive program). Mayor Bill de Blasio’s
Mandatory Inclusionary Housing initiative, meanwhile, requires
developers to create permanent affordable housing in new
developments where a rezoning would be required to build
Once the developer is getting ready to rent a building, they
work with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development or
the Housing Development Corporation to allocate the affordable
units—often through affordable housing lotteries.
What counts as “affordable,” anyway?
This is where things get a little tricky. The monthly rent for
an “affordable” apartment in New York City hinges on something
called “area median income” (AMI), which the HPD
explains as such:
The median income for all cities across the country is defined
each year by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
(HUD). The 2019 AMI for the New York City region is $96,100 for a
three-person family (100% AMI).
If that number seems high, that’s because it is: The median
family income for NYC in 2019, according to HUD, is $75,500. Why is
the AMI so high, then? As we
previously reported, “the federal government doesn’t use
data from only New York City when calculating AMI. Following a
history of changing methodologies, this calculation now
includes income data from three other counties outside of the city:
Rockland, Putnam, and Westchester counties.”
When developers are adding affordable housing in their new
buildings, they set aside a number of apartments that are priced
for those making a certain percentage of the AMI. Low-income
housing, for example, may be allocated for households making up to
60 percent of the AMI, while middle-income may be priced for those
making up to 100 percent of the AMI, and so on.
This can lead to a pretty wide disparity between housing costs
what New Yorkers can actually afford, particularly in
neighborhoods where the median income is vastly different than the
AMI. (See: East New York, where the median income is close to
To complicate matters further, apartments are allotted to
households making a certain percentage of the AMI, rather than
individuals, and the eligibility requirements change based on the
number of people per household. HPD and HDC determine the minimum
and maximum amounts that a household can make to be eligible for
certain apartments, and those figures are typically outlined on
each application. HPD has created a
handy chart that shows the minimum annual income for various
households across income bands, which can prove helpful for the
Oh, and this is all based on your pre-tax income, so things like
tips and freelance work count. Like we said, it’s
complicated—and the HPD’s
income guide does a pretty good job of breaking it down.
Okay, so how do I apply?
This is the easiest part! Start by creating a profile on
NYC Housing Connect: All you have to do is enter a few key
details—your name, household income, employment status, and so
forth. Your income is one of the most important parts of the
application, since it determines your eligibility for apartments;
the HPD has a
handy guide to figuring out exactly how to calculate it. Once
that’s completed, your information will be saved in the system,
ready to be used any time you want to apply for housing.
Listings appear on NYC Housing Connect pretty regularly, so the
best way to ensure that you don’t miss one is to check the
website every week, or even every few days. (Or check out our map
of all the open
affordable housing lotteries in the city.) Applications are
typically kept open for a couple of months.
unveiled a search
function for current housing opportunities that will tell you
which lotteries you qualify for, and in what boroughs. You simply
enter your household size and
combined household income—a figure that includes salaries,
freelance income, and other sources like child support or SSI
benefits—and it’ll spit out the lotteries you’re eligible
HDC also maintains a list of
city-subsidized rentals that are either open for applications,
or that have waiting lists for apartments. While there’s some
overlap with the Housing Connect listings, HDC breaks down the
available units by the type of program each one falls under—ELLA,
for example, is “Extremely-Low and Low-Income Affordability
Program,” while LAMP is “Low-income Affordable Marketplace
Program.” Yes, this is confusing, too—HDC breaks it
Is there any way to improve my chances?
Residents of New York’s various community boards get
preferential status for affordable apartments in their district, so
looking for housing in your neighborhood could help. Applicants
with hearing, mobility, or vision impairments are also given
preference, as are those who work for the city.
In some cases, developers may set aside a number of units for
other reasons—for example, Essex Crossing’s
first affordable housing lottery allocated a number of
apartments for former residents of the Seward Park Extension Urban
What happens after I apply?
It’s basically a waiting game. According to HPD, it can take
anywhere from two to ten months for applications to be processed
and potential renters to be selected. If you’re one of the lucky
few, you’ll be asked to come in for an interview—and you’ll
to bring need a
buttload of documentation, including a copy of your current
lease, proof that you’ve paid your rent, birth certificates for
everyone in your household, and your Social Security card.
New guidelines prevent developers from using things like a bad
credit score or student loan debts against applicants, and
survivors of domestic abuse are further protected from that sort of
scrutiny. But be prepared to bring documents that back up any sorts
of so-called “adverse factors” that might come up.
If you/your household pass muster, the next step is … more
waiting. Even if you’re eligible, an apartment isn’t
guaranteed—but if you do luck into one, you’ll find out once
the developer and the city have given the thumbs-up. Once you’ve
signed a lease, you’re good to go!
What do the critics think?
Lots of things! Critics say that this method of determining
what’s “affordable” doesn’t necessarily create housing
that’s truly affordable. What’s within reach for someone in an
affluent neighborhood like the Upper West Side, for example, may
not be in reach for someone in Crown Heights. And yet AMI is the
same across the city, and takes counties outside of the
city—which, naturally, have higher median incomes—into
Additionally, studies have shown that the current affordable
housing lottery overwhelmingly favors young, single
tenants—because developers aren’t creating enough apartments
that are fit for families, or those with children—as well as
Oh, and then there’s the whole “poor door” controversy,
which is the larger issue of developers separating the subsidized
tenants from ones paying market-rate—some developers have built
their affordable housing in separate buildings, or ask them to
enter through separate entrances.
So long story short, the way affordable housing is allocated
currently is definitely not without its problems, and it’s a bit
of a slog that may or may not pay off. But if you’re armed with
information (and all of the paperwork you need) going into the
process of applying, it’s worth a shot.
Source: FS – NYC Real Estate
How to apply for NYC’s affordable housing lottery