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City's Affordable Housing Lotteries Favor Young Single People, Stats Show

By Shaye Weaver | November 16, 2016 7:19am
 Roughly 41 percent of winners from 48 HPD lotteries between 2013 and 2015, were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 48 percent were single, HPD numbers show.
Roughly 41 percent of winners from 48 HPD lotteries between 2013 and 2015, were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 48 percent were single, HPD numbers show.
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NEW YORK CITY — Young, single New Yorkers were more likely to win affordable housing lotteries run by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development from 2013 through 2015 than older people with families, city records show.

Although the city would not release the total number of applicants it received for its housing lotteries during that time period, it's clear only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people who apply for affordable housing in the city actually get it — in 2015, nearly 200,000 people applied for just 14 apartments in Bushwick.

But new data shows that the lion's share of the affordable apartments are going to singles ages 25 through 34.

More than half of the 48 housing lotteries for 1,470 units across the city put out by HPD from January 2013 through the end of 2015 were made up of one-bedrooms and studios, according to the agency.

Forty-one percent of winners in those lotteries were ages 25 through 34, 50 percent of them were single, 36 percent are Hispanic and 27 percent of winners are black, according to data obtained by DNAinfo New York through a Freedom of Information Law request.

Only 4 percent were 62 or older, and 11 percent were under the age of 25. 

The available units included 605 one-bedrooms, 293 studios, 516 two-bedrooms and 56 apartments with three or more bedrooms, according to HPD. These numbers don't take into account separate lotteries conducted by the City's Housing Development Corporation.

Many affordable units are targeted to single professionals, or at least that seems to be the case on the west side of Manhattan, according to Sarah Desmond, executive director of Housing Conservation Coordinators in New York City, an organization that advocates for affordable housing on the west side.

"We see a disproportionate number of studios and one-bedrooms because that is the market for the luxury buildings in Hell's Kitchen," she said. 

Catherine Schmitz, a 48-year-old single mother of a 9-year-old son, said she tried applying to every single lottery that opened in the city for more than a year before she finally won a two-bedroom for $850 a month in Greenpoint in April 2015.

"I was applying every time one came up, every single lottery across the five boroughs," Schmitz said. "I was willing to live anywhere."

On the other hand, 24-year-old Iyanna Powell, a postal worker from East New York, got her one-bedroom in Livonia Commons in Brownsville, after applying to just one lottery, she said.

"I wanted to leave the nest and get my own space," said Powell, who had been living in her mother's basement until she won her own apartment in August last year.

Map: What Your Chances of Winning an Affordable Housing Lottery

"The lottery gives young people the opportunity to be on their own," she continued. "Now I'm able to live on my own and I don't have to stress myself out about where I'm going to lay my head at. I just turn the key of my apartment."

Both Powell and Schmitz agreed that those who already live in the neighborhood of the unit they're applying for have a better chance of winning.

Schmitz had lived in Greenpoint for 30 years before she won her new digs, and Powell was living with her family in nearby East New York. In many lotteries, HPD offers priority to those who already live in the community district where they're applying.

"It helped that I lived in the same neighborhood," Powell said. "My mom's house is a block from my apartment. It's so convenient because I didn't want to get an apartment far from my family."

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

Once an applicant is deemed eligible, HPD will schedule an interview, which isn't necessarily what you would expect, Schmitz said. 

"No person asked me questions. I had to fill out a lot of forms. ... It's all about financials," she said. "If you're 5 cents off in the numbers that they need, then you're out because so many people are looking for affordable housing."

How to Apply for Affordable Housing in New York City

Schmitz called the process "grueling" because even after you win the apartment, you might be called on to prove your eligibility again in a year or two.

"Certain affordable housing programs, such as low-income housing tax credits and Section 8, require residents to fill out an annual recertification so that the owner of the building may submit compliance information to the relevant agency," HPD spokeswoman Juliet Pierre-Antoine said in an email.

"Applicants who have to recertify are not re-evaluated for tenancy based on this (i.e., a change in income or household size will not affect their tenancy)."

Some eligibility requirements may also be determined by landlords, Pierre-Antoine said. Developers have the right to set what credit score minimum they'll take for a tenant. For instance, they might require a credit score of 580 or more, without looking into the details of the person's credit history.

But there is no minimum credit score that, alone, could disqualify someone, Pierre-Antoine said.

The city's housing lottery process requires people to apply online through Housing Connect and development in general tends to be geared toward younger people, leaving older residents who aren't as internet-savvy in the dark, Desmond said.

"This neighborhood market is targeted for single professionals, not necessarily families. The bulk of units at developments are skewed toward singles," she continued.

"If there is a higher proportion of young singles in the applicant pool, it's likely because they have more access to the information and to the Housing Connect website. This speaks to a need for greater outreach."