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Here's How to Boost Your Odds of Scoring Affordable Housing

By Amy Zimmer | January 10, 2017 12:25pm
 VIA57 West, the unusually shaped building on West 57th Street, had an affordable housing lottery posted on the state's website but not on the city's Housing Connect.
VIA57 West, the unusually shaped building on West 57th Street, had an affordable housing lottery posted on the state's website but not on the city's Housing Connect.
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VIA57

MANHATTAN — Want to increase your chances of scoring an affordable apartment?

Look beyond the city’s Housing Connect online portal.

While the vast majority of affordable housing lotteries for new buildings are posted on Housing Connect — a site run by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development — there are a handful of lotteries only posted on a website run by the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal.

And while Housing Connect lets New Yorkers apply with a click of a button — garnering upwards of 100,000 applications per project — the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal lists some lotteries that only allow applications by snail mail.

These lotteries attract much less attention.

“They’ll get anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 applicants. So, your odds are significantly higher,” said Rob Solano, executive director of Churches United for Fair Housing, which was contracted to do outreach and marketing for a recent lottery posted on the state's website for the amenity-laden tower at Fort Greene's BAM South with 76 affordable units.  

State officials declined to provide specific data on application figures.

Here’s what you need to know about affordable housing lotteries posted on the state’s website:

1. Manage your expectations. There are way fewer projects in the city that only get state funding.

Housing lotteries posted on the state’s website are for buildings that receive funding through the state’s Housing Finance Agency, which is part of the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal.

Many of these projects also receive city funding and therefore are posted on Housing Connect. But a few of those in the five boroughs don’t rely on city funding and therefore never pop up on the Housing Connect platform.

The state posts the ads for these projects, directing prospective tenants to mail applications to the developer, who conducts the lotteries and maintains the waitlists.

2. State lotteries get fewer applicants, but perhaps more who meet income requirements.

It’s now become so easy for people to apply through the city’s Housing Connect that the system has more than 700,000 registered users, according to officials. Many lotteries are flooded by people who aren’t necessarily eligible for the income bands outlined.  

A 2015 lottery in Bushwick, for instance, where 14 apartments were up for grabs, attracted more than 181,000 applicants.

On the other hand, the extra step of having to mail applications for lotteries on the state’s site sometimes roots out those who aren’t qualified, Solano believes.

“You’re looking at the ad, you’re looking at the income and writing it out,” he said.

3. The state’s website posts affordable units being re-rented in existing buildings.

When affordable units are vacated in an existing state-funded buildings, these units are posted on the state’s website — though you still have to mail a postcard to the developer to request an application.

For instance, the website presently shows two available studios for $553 a month for a single person earning between $20,640 and $24,080 at 505 W. 37th St., a Midtown West tower, built in 2009, with a rooftop deck overlooking the Hudson River and another terrace with an infinity-edged reflecting pool.

The city’s Housing Connect portal does not currently include affordable units that are being re-rented in older buildings, but plans are underway to expand the site to integrate such units, city officials have said. 

4. The state affordable housing lotteries use guidelines that are slightly different from city’s.

Officials from the state’s Housing and Community Renewal say they regularly review policies, procedures and technology to ensure greater access to affordable housing.

The agency, for instance, conducted a statewide educational series last year for developers and nonprofits on fair housing laws and policies, including information on re-entry discrimination to ensure that a person cannot be automatically denied eligibility for affordable housing based on a criminal record, officials said.

But the city and state may have slightly different criteria for eligibility, especially now that the city unveiled new lottery rules, prohibiting using credit score as the sole reason for being rejected from a lottery, among other changes.

“The city is more progressive on this,” Solano said.

That said, Solano pointed out that the developers who conduct the housing lotteries do have some flexibility when determining what they’re looking for in applicants.

“The developer can say, ‘I don’t want to use credit scores. I want to use credit history,” Solano said. “They have discretion. Everything is a guideline. It’s up to management and who is doing the leasing. But to be fair, whatever they decide has to be done before it goes to market so everyone is held to the same rules.”

5. The state also has a search portal for other affordable housing opportunities.

New Yorkers can also look at listings for affordable units at NYHousingSearch.gov, which includes an interactive map of affordable housing and lets you to filter based on accessibility features.

Listings here, for example, include senior housing on West 46th Street for $1,225 a month and a two-bedroom unit on West 138th Street in Hamilton Heights for $1,500 a month.

The site has owners’ contact information so prospective tenants can reach out.

Additionally, the state has a hotline (877-428-8844) to answer questions about specific affordable housing needs including accessibility and senior services.

“People get excited when we tell them something’s not on Housing Connect,” Solano said.  “If you think affordable housing is one website and that’s the answer, you’ve been steered wrong.”