Here's How You Can Qualify For The NYC Housing Lottery

Photo: Courtesy of Pacific Park.
Scoring a subsidized unit from the NYC Affordable Housing Lottery is the ultimate dream for many New Yorkers, but it's especially important for those who can't afford rent in the city's ever-booming real estate market.
To some, it may even top winning the jackpot: Imagine renting a brand-new apartment in a luxury development for only a couple hundred dollars a month — a small fraction of the market price — and you'll understand why the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development is constantly overflowing with applications.
This housing program is used by developers as a means to receive incentives from the government, typically in the form of tax breaks. Among their properties — many of which are centrally-located and come with fancy amenities like elevators, balconies, doorman service, and swimming pools — a certain number of units are allotted to lower-income and middle-income households. Sounds tempting? Well, they don't call it a lottery for no reason. Each project can receive up to 100,000 online applications, and even the less sought-after buildings can garner inquiries in the thousands.
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To help you understand the very specific requirements involved, we've put together a shortlist of steps and criteria that qualify you for the housing lottery. May the odds be ever in your favor.
What Exactly Does "Affordable" Mean?
The word "affordable" may mean different things to different people, but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines "affordable housing" as rentals that take up no more than 30% of a household's income. The department also calculates the median income for all cities in the country. The number — known as the Area Median Income (AMI) — for New York City is $85,900 for a three-person family in 2017. The rent is always configured to be a lot lower than the 30% ratio: Currently, the typical affordable housing rent for a studio is listed for between $300 and $700, and two-bedroom apartments average between $480 to $1,200.
Income Requirement
The annual income requirement for each property available for the lottery is then set by the local housing program. These numbers varies greatly, so it's important to check every listing that funnels through NYC Housing Connect, the online platform for these housing lottery applications. Keep in mind that, unless you're planning on living alone, the income bracket applies to the entire household — not just an individual. The requirement also applies to pre-tax income, so if you're picking up freelance gigs or earning tips, make sure to factor them into the equation. The income requirement for a studio apartment for single occupancy can be anywhere between $13,900 to $40,000, depending on the building.
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Filling Out Your Application
Once you find the property of your dreams, your next step is to create your account on NYC Housing Connect and submit your application before the deadline. You'll be asked to provide information on the employment status and income of every person in your household. You can apply for as many lotteries as you like, but be sure not apply to the same lottery twice: Duplicate applications are automatically disqualified.
Wait It Out
Due to the high volume of demand, most applicants won't be notified if they haven't been randomly selected. Your chances of getting selected are higher if you reside within the community board of the property, so your best bet is to stick with your own neighborhood. People with disabilities and impairments are also given preference.
Present Yourself At The Interview
If you're lucky enough to be randomly selected in the lottery, the last obstacle to clear is to provide physically proof that you do belong to the income bracket. This means presenting a number of documents at the in-person interview, including pay stubs, tax returns from the last three years, and any paperwork regarding your assets.
This can be a tricky and exhausting process, since virtually every single penny and anything of value you own will be taken into consideration. After a drawn-out interview, some applicants have been told that the gross value of their assets actually exceeded the maximum income requirement. So, going through all that trouble when you don't qualify for the government's standards of low- or medium-income will likely be a big waste of time and effort. However, this hasn't stopped some people from trying their luck again, because let's face it: A good deal on an apartment in NYC is worth the hassle.
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