When it comes to applying for affordable housing, the odds are not typically in your favor: Last year, for instance, the Washington Post reported that a whopping 88,000 people applied for 55 affordable units that had become available in a new Manhattan development.
So if your application is randomly selected to move on to the next phase of consideration, it can feel like winning the lottery, a rare opportunity bringing you a little closer to snagging a swanky new space way below the market rate.
But the second stage of the application process is actually a daunting one, requiring an in-person interview and the presentation of a slew of documents about your employment status, finances, and health. Not only can the latter feel a bit invasive, it’s also tough to organize—and you’ll often have a tight deadline in which to prepare your paperwork.
Recently, when my application for an affordable apartment in Astoria was chosen for further processing, my excitement was tempered by the mountain of documentation I’d have to gather before my interview—which I would have to attend within the next two weeks. Had I had an idea of what I might need to share, I could have spared myself some last-minute scrambling by prepping in advance, on the off-chance I was chosen.
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Sarah Meier-Zimbler, manager of Affordable Housing Initiatives with The Actors Fund, says she always advises New Yorkers to create an affordable housing file when they begin applying: "Start early, and start a file as soon as you start applying. Slowly chip away at it. Otherwise, you're going to spend a lot of energy printing out all this paperwork last minute," she says.
Here’s what you may be asked to bring to an interview, and how to get ready yourself, if your application makes it to the next round. And note that you're only expected to bring copies--not originals--of the following.
- Your last six consecutive paystubs: It’s always a good idea to hang onto these; I tend to stuff them into a drawer willy-nilly, but you could certainly make your life easier by being better organized. Meier-Zimbler notes that this will be more complicated for people with multiple jobs. "I work with people in the performing arts and entertainment industry who have fluctuating and episodic income," she says. So if you have W-2s and 1099s from several gigs, arrange them in an order that makes sense to you. Moreover, she adds, "Come to your interview prepared to explain your situation."
- Your last three years of W-2s and tax returns (all pages): If you don’t have these on hand, you can request digital or hard copies of your transcripts here; note that it can take up to 30 days for your returns to arrive in the mail, so this may be something to take care of well before you receive a call.
- Public assistance budget letter dated within 30 days: If you receive any welfare benefits, such as SNAP (food stamps), or cash assistance through TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or New York State Temporary Assistance, be prepared to have documentation detailing what you receive.
- Social security/SSI/pension award letter: If you receive social security benefits, you must demonstrate this with an official letter; this can be requested online here.
- Checking account statements for last six months: If you bank online, these may be easily downloadable.
- Your most recent savings account statement: A copy of your bank statement will suffice.
- The last statement of your 401k or IRA: applicable only if you have one
- Photo ID for all members of your household who are 18 or older: The Housing Connect site lists a passport or driver's license as acceptable forms of photo ID; if you don't have either, idNYC cards are accepted by most city agencies.
- Social security cards for all members of your household: If you’ve lost your card, note that it can take between two and six weeks to process the request for a new one.
- Birth certificate or passport for household members under 18: If you don’t have this on hand, it can take two to eight weeks to process a request for a copy of birth certificates.
- Enrollment information for students living in the home: If a member of your household is a student, you’ll need to bring a letter verifying their enrollment, status, and how many credits they’ve earned so far.
- A money order of $50 for households of one to two people, and of $75 for households of three or more individuals, for a credit check
- A rental subsidy voucher, if you have applied and qualified for Section 8 housing. See here for more information about how Section 8 works.
- A medical form filled out by your physician; ask your doctor for a copy of your most recent physical to keep at home, so that you don’t need to squeeze in an appointment before your interview.
While this is what I was asked to bring to my interview, New York Housing Connect notes that you might be asked for any of the documents from this checklist. Many applicants are required to demonstrate proof of residency via copies of their lease, utility bills, and rent checks, and if you have income from sources like alimony, child support, or grants, you should be prepared to disclose that as well.
"It feels burdensome, but there are legitimate reasons why the documentation is required," Meier-Zimbler says. The city is following federal regulations in order to ensure that affordable units go to the New Yorkers who actually need them.
And although it isn't particularly easy to land an affordable apartment, there is some good news: Mayor De Blasio recently announced new regulations that will ease the process for applicants by no longer disqualifying them for having a checkered credit history or an appearance in housing court.
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