Inside Stories

I won a two bedroom in the Bronx for $655 a month in NYC's housing lottery

  • At first, Katherine didn't take applying seriously: 'I didn’t believe they were legitimate apartments'
Austin Havens-Bowen
By Austin Havens-Bowen  |
June 26, 2024 - 9:30AM
New South Bronx apartment building

A rendering of the new building in the South Bronx where Katherine landed a two-bedroom.

Bronx-born Katherine is a 20-something single mother who works for a tech company. When she was 18, her mom told her about NYC's housing lottery. After years of applying, at age 26, she landed a two-bedroom apartment in a new building in the South Bronx, the same neighborhood where she grew up. Coincidentally, her sister also won an apartment just one block away. Katherine shares her story with Austin Havens-Bowen.

[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's Inside Stories features first-person accounts of dramatic, real-life New York City real estate experiences. A previous version of this article ran in September 2019. We are presenting it again in case you missed it.]

Why was your mom so adamant about you applying for a lottery apartment?

My mom told me about it when I was 18, but she did not know much about it. I found a link and made an account, but I didn’t take it seriously at first. I didn’t believe they were legitimate apartments, so I applied to the wrong ones without even considering the income requirements.

She really wanted me to live on my own, because once I moved back in with her, I had my son and it became too much with my brother and sister also living there. And she knew it was a good way to get an affordable, nice apartment.

How did you find out you were selected? What documents did you need to qualify?

I was contacted by email and told I had been chosen for the lottery. The email had photos of the building. They requested me to send some information including a photo of my current lease. My mom wrote a letter stating that I was living in her apartment rent-free to explain why I didn't have a lease. Then I had an interview and presented my paperwork: My pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, Con Ed bills, and my son’s birth certificate. It took about a year from the beginning of the process until my move-in day.

What did you have to pay upfront in order to move in? 

I had to pay my first month’s rent and a security deposit, which was the amount of my monthly rent. There were no other fees, other than a $25 background check fee.


Katherine's apartment has large windows and hardwood floors.

How much do you pay a month? Are utilities included?

I currently pay $671, which does not include utilities. I renewed my two-year lease so my rent was slightly increased from my original rent of $655. 

Does the building have any amenities? 

We have a laundry room, a garden on a lower floor, and a roof deck. I can access all of the amenities.

What did you include on your application that you think was critical to being selected?

I know you get priority when applying to the apartments in the borough where you live. I also put “overcrowding” as my reason for applying because my son and I were living in my mother’s apartment with my brother and sister there too.

What do you like best about living in your apartment? 

It’s quiet and brand new. I like the fact that nobody lived in my apartment before me. I also like the neighborhood—it’s cool to see the place where I grew up being developed. 

Was your sister's experience similar to yours?

She applied for a lot longer than I did, but once she was chosen, her process was pretty much the same as mine. We now live one block away from each other, and are only two stops away from our mom’s apartment.

What would you tell New Yorkers about the housing lottery?

It’s like the real lottery, you can’t expect to win the first time. You have to do what I did and keep applying for all of the lotteries you actually qualify for, and then it may eventually pay off like it did for me.

If you’re interested and think you might qualify for a housing lottery apartment, you can create a profile and apply online via NYC Housing Connect. Don’t apply more than once, or you could be disqualified.

Winning a rent-stabilized apartment can be life changing: Rent increases are capped and lease renewals are automatic, providing long-term stability for NYC renters. Need more information on how the housing lottery works? Check out “6 steps for applying to NYC's affordable housing lottery.”

For some advice from successful applicants read “How to land a rental apartment through NYC's affordable housing lottery.” And if you or someone you know is having trouble with the application process, consider reaching out to a housing ambassador in the community.

Note: Brick Underground is in no way affiliated with New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development or the Housing Development Corporation. If you are interested in applying to these or other affordable housing developments, please go to NYC Housing Connect for information and instructions.

Have you successfully won an apartment through the affordable housing lottery? If you have first-person advice to share about the process, we’d love to hear from you. Please send us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.

Austin Havens-Bowen

Austin Havens-Bowen


Austin Havens-Bowen is a writer and reporter. He previously covered local news for the Queens Ledger and The Hunts Point Express in the Bronx. He graduated from Hunter College with a BA in media studies. He rents a one-bedroom apartment in Astoria with his boyfriend and their two cats.

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