Housing is considered affordable when it costs about one third or less than a person’s total income, but in New York, people are often shelling out a lot more than that. To ease the burden of expensive housing, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Housing Development Corporation (HDC) created affordable housing opportunities for various household income levels and sizes via its housing lottery program, also known as Housing Connect. Epicenter-NYC reporter Andrea Pineda-Salgado speaks to Ana Nuñez, the deputy director of services at Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH). The organization is rooted in faith and community spaces that provide affordable housing services and integrated social resources.
What is Housing Connect?
Housing Connect is a website where affordable housing lotteries are made public to New Yorkers, or anyone with an account.
“There are essentially three types of lotteries, although officially, there are two. One is rental lotteries and the other is sales lotteries. The third type is senior housing,” says Nuñez. “Most of the lotteries you will find on housing connect are for rentals.”
Anyone can apply for the affordable housing, however, there are certain requirements:
- You must be at least 18 years old.
- You need a Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).
Setting up your account:
The very first step in applying to a lottery is creating a Housing Connect profile. To set up your profile, you must provide the following information:
- Email and alternate email
- The language you would like to be contacted in.
- Household members — all the household members who will be living with you if you get the apartment. This includes unborn children.
- Your current address.
- Your income, which includes money from a regular job, your own business or part-time work as well as workers’ compensation, Social Security or public assistance. More information on what counts as income here.
You’ll also be asked questions regarding your housing status right now, for example, if you live in a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) building or if you will be using rental assistance (such as a Section 8 voucher) to move in. You will also be asked for information about any disabilities you may have. (Some lotteries prioritize housing for those with disabilities).
Before you apply:
Once your Housing Connect profile is set up, a search for housing can begin.Housing Connect has listings for people in different income brackets.
“You have to see what lottery is available within your income range because each lottery has different income and household size requirements,” Nuñez says. “If it’s not a senior lottery, the lowest income I have seen qualify is around $9,000 to $15,000 per year; in the highest range, I have seen incomes of more than $120,000 per year. There is a big range.”
Affordable in this context means that if your income qualifies, rent will not cost more than one-third of your income.
How to apply:
You can use the Open Lotteries page on the website to find current affordable housing opportunities. You can use filters to see options that accept your income bracket and household size. You can also filter by the number of bedrooms, neighborhood, transportation options and amenities.
Each listing will display the number of homes available, the maximum number of household members, the range of income your household must meet to be eligible and the deadline for submitting your application.
All you have to do is press the “Apply Now” button before the deadline and your application is in — it’s as easy as that. It’s important to remember that each building has a different application deadline, so keep that in mind .
Remember: There is an option to send in a paper application, but if you’ve already submitted an online form, don’t send a paper application — you may be disqualified.
How does the lottery system work?
“After the deadline, a computer system takes in all the applications and jumbles it up — imagine those lotto balls. The application is a ball assigned a random number called a ‘log number,’” says Nuñez. “It doesn’t matter if the application is the first or the last one to be filled in because they will all be mixed and given a random number.”
Each application will receive a log number determining when the application will be reviewed. As mentioned before, some buildings have preferences. For example, there is a 5% preference for mobility disability applicants or 2% for vision hearing applicants.
Sometimes there is a 5% preference for a city employee or a 50% preference for community board members. The percentages mean that a certain percentage of units will be reserved for that population — not all listings have preferences, but you can see which building has preferences in its description. Get more information here.
“I would say there isn’t really anything that gives somebody like an edge. It’s luck,” says Nuñez. “What can help speed the process along [if your application gets chosen] is having your documents in order, knowing where they are, it’s less stress off your back [when you get contacted].”
After the application:
It may take several months or longer to hear the status of your application, sometimes you may not hear back at all.
While you wait, there are a few documents you can have in handy such as:
- Identity documents of those who live with you such as birth certificates and picture IDs.
- Proof of income of everyone who will live with you such as pay stubs, federal or state tax returns or proof of public assistance.
- Information about your current apartment such as a copy of your current lease, receipts for rent, recent gas or electric bills.
Get an in depth checklist here.
Sometimes, you will get notified that your application was rejected, along with a reason why. You have the right to appeal the decision — make sure you do so quickly, you’ll only have 10 business days to do so. More information on how to appeal here. If you appeal and it is unsuccessful, you can also file a complaint.
“Once you submit, just let them do their thing,” says Nuñez. “If you have submitted your documents and they don’t say anything for a couple of weeks — it doesn’t mean you have been rejected. Don’t stress out. It doesn’t mean it is a rejection.”
Nuñez also wants to remind folks not to get too excited when you get contacted. The apartment isn’t yours until you sign a lease and have the keys — just be patient and let the system do its thing.
Just because one building doesn’t work out, there are still many others popping up all the time, make sure you check your Housing Connect account periodically for new updates.
“The important thing about Housing Connect is that people have to be consistent about it. I really recommend that people log in at least once a week or every two weeks to see what new lotteries are available and what else they qualify for,” says Nuñez.
If you need support at any stage of the application process, be sure to check out the following resources:
- Housing Ambassadors
HPD partners with community-based service providers in New York City that help New Yorkers prepare and apply for the housing lotteries. Find one near you here.
- Churches United for Fair Housing (CUFFH)
CUFFH offers year-round affordable housing workshops where you can be guided through your application or have your questions answered. Get more information on its services here.