Finding a rent-stabilized apartment in New York City can be life changing—enabling you to save money on your rent and protect you from large rent increases. But these regulated apartments, which come with automatic lease renewals that lock in these benefits for the long term, are notoriously difficult to find.
One option, if your income falls within a specific low-income bracket, is to apply for a coveted rent-regulated apartment through NYC Housing Connect, otherwise known as New York’s affordable housing lottery. And like any lottery, to land one of these below-market rate units, you need plenty of luck and persistence to be successful.
“All New Yorkers should consider Housing Connect in their apartment search, and for good reason: Apartments available through the lottery are rent-stabilized, limiting how much your rent can go up each year and locking in affordability for years to come,” says William Fowler, deputy press secretary at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
If you’re curious about what makes these apartments affordable, it’s because developers get financial incentives (usually in the form of tax breaks) and in exchange, must set aside a percentage of apartments to be rent regulated. HPD and the Housing Development Corporation finance the lottery program at the city level. You may also have heard of buildings referred to as 80/20s—these are buildings with funding from New York State Homes and Community Renewal and the moniker reflects the ratio of market rate to affordable apartments in the building.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article was published in December 2017. We're presenting it again with updated information for May 2022.]
More importantly, how do you get one of these apartments? First, you’ll need to make sure you qualify, then you’ll complete an online application, start applying for apartments, get through the selection process, and finally sign your lease. Housing Connect’s website, which includes current listings, recently went through a major overhaul and is now full of helpful information, useful links, and plenty of advice.
Read on for more detail on how to enter the NYC Housing Lottery.
1. See if you qualify
Your eligibility depends largely on your income and your household size. Note: An affordable apartment is one that costs one third or less of your income.
The eligible income bracket for the affordable housing lottery is calculated using the median income in the area (known as the AMI). The current AMI for New York City is $107,400 for a three-person family and apartments are offered through Housing Connect based on a percentage of the AMI, which varies by building.
For example, a number of apartments in a building might be offered to households earning 60 percent of the AMI, while others are set aside for households earning 130 percent of the AMI. As an example, currently households with one to five persons and an income from $87,635 to $167,570 can apply for apartments at Dutch House in Astoria. For apartments at 90 Woodycrest Ave. in the Bronx, the eligibility income begins at $49,715.
In some cases your age will be a qualifying factor because there are buildings constructed exclusively for seniors, where apartments are set aside for New Yorkers aged 62 and above.
In addition, there are situations where residents who live within certain community boards will get preference. This preference will be listed on the developer’s promotional information. There are other quotas that might be relevant: In new buildings, 5 percent of units are for households where someone has a mobility disability, and 2 percent are for those with vision, or hearing disabilities.
Some buildings like 90 Sands St. in Brooklyn have support services to serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers. Income eligibility is lower again with households of one to three people eligible with incomes from $18,412 to $128,880.
2. Complete your online profile
Once you register via Housing Connect online, you will need to provide information about everyone in your household including their incomes, assets, and disability status. Your household income will need to be in a specific range to qualify or you may need a voucher to cover the rent.
As you complete your profile you can choose to be considered for re-rentals or resales in the housing choices section. This is recommended. These are apartments that become available when people move out. You can’t specifically apply for these opportunities but you can be randomly selected for these apartments if they match your profile in the system.
If there are any changes to your information at any point during the process, you need to update the records. This can be done before or after you apply to any specific development. What you want to avoid is being selected for an apartment and then not being eligible because your income or household information has changed. As the selection process moves forward you will need to provide documentation that confirms all the details in your profile.
3. Apply to lotteries
The easiest way to find an apartment for which you are eligible is to visit Housing Connect’s open lotteries page. You can see the listings, find out how many apartments are available, what the preferences are, and the qualifying income range. You can also view listings via the New York State Department of Homes and Community Renewal. Another good resource is to reach out to one of the city’s Housing Ambassadors, community based organizations who can help you apply and give language assistance if you need it.
Developers participating in the program are also required to post housing lottery marketing information in multiple languages at their construction sites throughout the application period.
When the housing lottery opens there will be a deadline for applications. This can range from a few weeks to a couple of months, so give yourself plenty of time to get your supporting paperwork prepared. As long as you apply before the deadline, it doesn’t matter when you submit your application.
If submitting an online application is difficult for you, there’s an option to have an application mailed to you. The document will have instructions about where to send the completed application. One important reminder: Make sure there’s only one application per household for the building you’ve chosen or you could be disqualified. That also means you can’t submit by mail and online so choose just one application method.
4. Provide the relevant paperwork
In order to be fair to all applicants, the selection process uses a randomized lottery system. Within a few weeks after the application deadline, Housing Connect randomly assigns log numbers to all applicants whose profiles are complete. (If you don’t get a number it may be that your profile needs updating—this is why it’s so important to make sure information is not just accurate when you submit but also as you wait).
If your number comes up, you will be asked to upload documents to confirm your eligibility. (An interview is no longer part of the process as it was in the past.) According to HPD, developers and their marketing agents aren’t allowed to “screen” applicants outside of the eligibility criteria. In the past, the process also involved a home visit. This practice has also been abandoned. Developers can’t use any information about debt-to-income ratio, or lack of credit or rental history, personal references, or information from previous landlords and neighbors as part of the selection process. If you’ve been involved in a housing court case or plan to use a guarantor, these details are not allowed to be used in the selection process.
A low log number—say 28—means you may hear back sooner about your selection. A higher log number—something like 20,000—means your chances of being selected are lower.
The paperwork you need to provide will include: pay stubs, federal or state tax returns, a copy of your current lease or a notarized letter from your landlord if you don’t have a lease, and copies of your most recent utility bills showing your name and current address.
If you don’t have these documents, HPD offers advice on how to order new ones. Keep in mind there are processing times and additional costs if you need to order new birth certificates, photo IDs, or social security cards. You should factor this into your preparation time.
5. The importance of good credit
As with any rental, your credit history is important. You can’t be disqualified based solely on your credit score but the information in your credit history still matters and you may be asked to undergo a credit check.
If that’s the case, and you have more than $5,000 debt in collections or if you’ve filed for bankruptcy within the past year, you could face disqualification. As an alternative to a credit check, you can provide proof that you’ve paid your rent on time and in full for the past year—typically in the form of a bank statement. This means you can apply without providing a social security number or tax ID for every adult in the household.
The Housing Connect website cites the most common reasons for lottery rejection as not meeting income or household eligibility requirements. If you are rejected, there is an appeals process but you need to act quickly. The notice will tell you how many days you have to submit an appeal.
6. Signing the lease
As part of your application planning, it’s a good idea to start saving for at least two months rent to cover your first month and the security deposit, which you will need to pay when you sign the lease. Remember, the security deposit is capped at one month’s rent. The city offers free financial counseling if you need help with checking your credit, calculating your income for housing applications, and guidance on moving expenses.
Once you sign the lease, you have the same tenant protections as someone living in a rent-stabilized apartment—that all-important automatic lease renewal, plus increases capped at rates issued annually by the Rent Guidelines Board.
What’s complicated for some applicants is timing the end of your current lease with the start of a new affordable housing lease when the selection timeframe is beyond your control. If you’re offered an apartment, you might have to move quickly. The good news is that a landlord now has a duty to help find a new tenant for the apartment you are vacating even if you have six months left on your lease. However, breaking a lease comes with risks and you might want to speak with a lawyer as you move forward.
If you are already in an affordable apartment you’ve received through the lottery system but are applying again for another apartment because the number of people in your household has changed, you are faced with the same issue. Every development on Housing Connect is privately-owned so each lottery is treated independently and applicants will need to qualify for a new unit, even if they are currently living in affordable housing. The good news is there is no shortage of applicants who will want your apartment.
Some developers may ask you to re-certify your status each year—this is for their records, not because they will kick you out if your circumstances change—but it’s worth keeping your paperwork in order so it doesn’t become an annual headache. Even in developments that require re-certification, all the apartments are rent-stabilized, so your rent will be stabilized regardless of how your income changes during your tenancy.
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