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One Woman's Secret to Winning the City's Affordable Housing Lottery

By Gwynne Hogan | October 14, 2016 2:57pm | Updated on October 17, 2016 7:16am
 Subsidized tenants of Greenpoint Landing's first completed building at the end of the summer. The 20-acres complex on the Greenpoint waterfront will eventually more than 5,000 subsidized and market rate apartments.
Greenpoint Landing
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GREENPOINT —  What's one woman's lucky tip to winning the city's affordable housing lottery fast?

Snail mail.

For three years, Ava Lynn Javier, 29, desperate to get out of the apartment she'd grown up in on the Southside of Williamsburg, had submitted around 200 affordable housing applications online, hoping to find a place of her own.

"The moment anything came up that it was in my price range," she said. "I didn't care if it was in Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn. I was just throwing them all in there."

But Javier, an office manager for a Manhattan psychiatrist who shared a room with her sister for most of her life, rarely heard anything back from the housing lottery; not even that she'd been denied. She was frustrated and fed up and started studying the fine print looking for any kind of clue that might help her application be more successful.

There, she found a line that said you could apply by mail by submitting a self-addressed envelope. She tried it, got back a paper application which she filled out by hand, then mailed back. Immediately, she saw results.

Within a week or two, she'd get personal letters from the building's owners telling her she was being considered or that she didn't qualify.

► Apply for an $834 one-bedroom in Bushwick/Bed-Stuy

► $833 studio available in a High-Rise near BAM

"At least you know and you're not just sitting there waiting," she said.

Then this spring, after applying to about 20 different lotteries with her new, old-school system, she got the "best phone call ever," she said.

She'd been approved for a studio at Greenpoint Landing, a brand new building on the North Brooklyn waterfront, the first of around 20 buildings in a 20-acre waterfront swath, slated to hold around 5,500 mostly market rate apartments once it's completed.

She'd won out over more than 70,000 applicants for 92 apartments, according to building mangers at L+M Development. Because her prior address was within the same community district as the new development, she had priority as well, she pointed out. 

"My knees locked and I started crying," she said. "It was so overwhelming, the excitement. I was shaking. I was crying. It was wonderful."

She moved in mid-August and has been living the dream ever since. 

"I tell people that this is best lottery to win, cause when you win the cash lottery you get taxed...and you're broke at the end of the day," she said. "I have my own place. I feel like I won big with this apartment."

Now she's out to educate the rest of us.

She often carries an affordable housing application around with her, she said, where she's highlighted the critical fine print that says you can apply by mail.

"I've been telling the patients," at the office where she works, she said. "I've been telling my friends. Please just apply direct. I want to help everyone. I know everyone's struggling. Apartments are not becoming affordable at all."

Tenants of a second affordable building in Greenpoint Landing on Eagle Street will move in at the end of the month. For those 97 apartments, L+M Development got more than 80,000 applications.

► READ MORE: How to Apply for Affordable Housing in New York City
► READ MORE: INTERACTIVE: What is AMI?

A third affordable building, still under construction, will open up for lottery early next year, according to L+M. The three affordable buildings will be followed by three market rate towers built by Park Tower Group.

A spokeswoman for the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which runs the city's affordable housing lottery, pointed to several online guides about the application process and said that Javier's tip was nice but potentially misleading.

"While I'm sure well-intentioned, there is no basis to this claim, which we fear could be misleading to the many New Yorkers applying for housing through Housing Connect," said Juliet Pierre-Antoine. "The HPD lottery system for selecting affordable housing applications is a fully randomized process."

"There are no tips or tricks that will guarantee selection. Paper applications and electronic applications are processed equally in the same lottery. There is no distinction."

Upon hearing HPD's remarks, she didn't waver, however, saying that her tip was just based on her personal experience. 

"Everyone has their own opinion. My opinion is that it's better just to go through the managers that are handling it, because I had a great experience," she said. "With HPD I just didn't have that luck."