Our Guide to the NYC Housing Lottery

The PropertyClub Team
Dec 18th 2019
“You’ve got to be in it to win it” is one of the New York State lottery’s more memorable advertising slogans. What this tagline doesn’t mention, of course, is you’ve got about a one in a zillion to one shot of winning. The odds aren’t quite as bad with the NYC Housing Lottery, however. Your chances of snagging a below-market-rate apartment are much better – not great, mind you – but at about 600 to 1, at least in the realm of possibility.

Everyone knows that New York City is one of the most expensive places to live and that both the rent and home values are both too high! With such a large number of renters and highly competitive market, most NYC residents will do anything for an affordable apartment, including but limited to getting roommates and living in a less desirable area. However, most people never explore affordable housing options. This is mainly because most people have the misconception that affordable housing is only for low-income individuals, which is false. 

New York City offers various housing programs, which are intended to assist lower-class and middle-class residents and families with finding affordable housing. In some instances, an individual or family can earn up to six-figures and still qualify for a rent-stabilized apartment.

What Is Affordable Housing in NYC?

"Affordable" housing is generally defined by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), as housing costs that are no greater than 30 percent of a person' s/family's income. Together with HPD, New York City works with developers and investors to create "affordable" housing options for low-and middle-income New Yorkers. In April of 2017, the New York legislature enacted a new version of 421-a tax law, a popular tax abatement program, which is also known as the "Affordable Housing NY Program." Overall, the new bill is chiefly focused on offering tax incentives to developers who agree to provide both affordable housing units and to pay their construction workers higher wages.

New York City uses the area median income to determine who qualifies for affordable and middle-income housing. Housing is considered affordable if it costs approximately one-third or less of what the people living there earn, also known as Area Median Income (AMI). As explained by HPD, "The median income for all cities across the country is defined each year by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The 2019 AMI for the New York City region is $96,100 for a three-person family (100% AMI)." 

HPD has a helpful chart that breaks down your percentage of AMI and what you should pay to rent in New York City. You can view it here

The apartments available through the housing are typically rent-stabilized, which means that the terms of the lease and rent increases, etc., are regulated by New York City and State. While you will be required to report your income annually, your rent will not change despite fluctuations in your income.

If you're a municipal employee, be mindful that 5% of affordable and middle-income housing is reserved for municipal employees. As such, if a New York City agency employs you, chances are you are also eligible for preferential treatment. 

Why a Lottery Anyway?

If you live in New York City, you probably know the answer. Next to San Francisco, where the average cost of a home is $1.6 million, and rent for a one-bedroom apartment goes for over $3,600, New York City is the most challenging city to secure affordable housing.

San Francisco’s tight housing market is relatively new. New York’s is not. The government started rent control in NYC back during World War II. It’s helped a bit but hasn’t done much to increase the number of affordable NYC apartments. Some say that it lessens the amount of moderately priced units because developers and landlords have a big cap on their return-on-investment with rent control.

Whatever the reason, the housing lottery has been in place for years and was conceived to provide otherwise unaffordable housing to middle and lower-middle-class families. Today, affordable housing is a centerpiece of Mayor De Blasio’s administration. He hopes to have over 300,000 mostly rent-stabilized apartments handed out by 2026. Since he became mayor, the number of houses in the lottery has increased.

Who Can Play and How It Works

Surprisingly, folks with relatively high, middle-class and upper-middle-class incomes are eligible for the lottery. A person with a $120,000 salary can apply. So can the head of a household with an income of $200,000 if there are six people in the family.

The housing units in the program come from private real estate developers and landlords who are given tax credits to set aside several apartments in a new development for affordable housing. Housing is considered “affordable” if it does not exceed 30% of a person’s gross yearly income.

How to Apply for the NYC Affordable Housing Lottery

Are you ready to play the housing lottery? Applicants may elect to apply by one of two methods, either online or by mail. 

If you choose to submit a paper application by mail, you must follow the directions listed in the advertisement. You must then return the completed original paper application by regular mail only before the deadline. 

All electronic applications for New York City's lottery housing must be submitted on the NYC Housing Connect, an online portal implemented seven years ago, which is a part of the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC). The website is updated regularly with new listings. Some of the listings are found in buildings that are comprised of entirely below-market-rate apartments, or located in luxury developments or mixed buildings. You can find a current listing of available housing lotteries here. To apply for a housing lottery, you must set up on account of the NYC Housing Connect portal by doing the following: 

  • Register and set up an account on NYC Housing Connect. You will need to register using a valid email account and enter the necessary contact information. Please note, you are only allowed to register one account per household. Throughout the years, (if you still haven't been selected for an apartment), you must keep your profile current. More specifically, when there are changes to your income and household size, you should update it on the site. This will change what lotteries you are qualified for. 
  • Next, you will have to enter your household information. This includes employment and income information for everyone in your family. You are required to complete all the required fields before you can submit your application. 
  • Submit the application before each property's deadline. The best part is you can now apply for any lottery you qualify for. Just make sure you submit one application per property, by the deadline. Keep in mind that you cannot share a studio with another person under the program. 
  • Additionally, you may want to set up preferences for specific neighborhoods and set up email alerts to apply when anything becomes available on the site. 
  • Do not apply for everything, as this is a big mistake. The best rule of thumb is to only apply for properties that you qualify for based on your income and household size. As such, look carefully at each building's requirements, specifically its income limits and occupancy limit for each apartment. 
    • For example, let's say your household size is two adults, and you are looking to apply for a 1-bedroom apartment. Let's say we are looking at this chart for a building under Two-person occupancy. The chart says that your household income must fall within $34,971 and $52,100. You must enter and calculate the income for yourself and the other person who will be residing in the apartment. 
  • Track your application history. Be mindful that it's a slow process, so don't freak out if you haven't heard back for several weeks after submitting your application. That said, you can view all the lotteries you applied for on your online account. Overall, remember, it can take months. In any event, monitor your online status regularly to ensure that you do not miss out on any opportunities. 

Applicants should keep a close eye on their mailbox. People are notified not by email but with snail mail, so if you keep clicking into your email inbox, you may miss your appointment with housing authorities. Before doling out to the house keys to those who win, they will interview the applicant first. If you miss that interview, you’ll remain living in your small, overpriced apartment.

What Are the Odds?

Not good. There were 4.6 million applications for the lottery in 2018. The New York Times estimated that applicants have about a 1 in 592 chance of winning the housing lottery. That’s a lot better than the 1 in 1,000 chance back in 2016. In 2018, 7,867 apartments were awarded by the lottery. That’s a significant increase from the 2,107 given out in 2011, but back in 2011, it was significantly easier to win a lottery apartment as there were far fewer applicants. Those 2,107 apartments were awarded to lucky winners out of a pool of 133,335, giving you about a 1 in 60 chance of winning while there were over 4.6 million applicants for the 7,867 apartments awarded last year.

New York’s Housing Preservation and Development and Housing Development Corporation Departments administer the program, set the rules, and run the lottery. 

If you are selected for an interview!

If you are one of the lucky ones to receive a phone call or an email, CONGRATULATIONS!

You have gotten much further than most, and this is the crucial first step to snatching up that highly sought out apartment! 

So once you receive confirmation that you've been selected for an interview, you will then be scheduled to meet with the development company. They will then verify your income by using a combination of your tax returns, pay stubs, and any additional asset documents. 

After the interview, you will have to wait to be contacted. You may be contacted by the developer asking for additional information. You mustn't read too much into this request. 

If you are eligible and the developer accepts you, he or she will send your information to HPD to approve you. 

Please note, you need final written approval from HPD and HDC, to sign a lease or contract and to move into the building. 

NYC Affordable Housing Lottery Tips 

  • Be very organized throughout the entire process. 
  • Complete the application accurately. You will more than likely be disqualified for submitting false or incomplete information. You can even be referred to the New York City Department of Investigation. 
  • Prepare for the interview by gathering your paperwork ahead of time. (i.e., I.D.'s, tax returns, pay stubs, proof of address, and asset documentation.
  • If you have been found ineligible and you feel like this was incorrect or a mistake, you have ten business days to respond and appeal. Carefully follow instructions on how to appeal a decision. 
  • Do not waste your time submitting more than one application per project. Security algorithms are in place to detect multiple applications from a single household on any project and for both paper and online applications, and this may also disqualify you. 
  • Do not contact HPD, HDC, or any development affiliates directly. HPD and HDC do not directly market or lease properties;
  • It pays to stay local. Some housing lotteries offer a preference for residents living within the same community board. As such, you can increase your chances of winning the housing lottery by including those buildings in your housing search. To locate which community board that you reside in, go here. These preferences can typically be found on the income chart on the ad for the lottery. 

Are you now ready to apply for the NYC Affordable Housing Lottery? If so, check out this guide, Ready Set Apply for additional tips on putting together your application. 

Also, you can check out This video from Housing Connect, which explains what applicants can expect to experience during the application process on NYC Housing Connect.

Some Examples of Affordable Housing Units

Many imagine that affordable housing units are dumps or located in neighborhoods that require a blackbelt in Mixed Martial Arts to avoid having your wallet liberated from you with some frequency. That’s generally not the case, as noted below:

-1766 Second Ave. Upper East Side, Manhattan

25 apartments in this building are available in the housing lottery. If a person makes between 70% to 80% of the neighborhood’s median household income, they are eligible for the lottery. There are four studio apartments available, as well as several one and two-bedroom units. Half of the apartments in the lottery are put aside for people who live in the neighborhood (Manhattan’s Community Board 8).

-545 East 166 Street, the Bronx

There are 32 affordable apartments available in this new development. They include studios, one and two-bedroom apartments. People with incomes 40% to 80% of the area’s median household income may apply. Rents are $590 for a studio, to $1,643 for a two-bedroom apartment.

-195 Sullivan Place, Crown Heights

Four apartments are available in this building. There are three studio apartments and a single one-bedroom unit earmarked for the winners of the housing lottery. Applicants must earn no more than 60% of the area’s median income.

As you can see, some of these apartments are quite nice. Many are brand new and feature modern appliances and good finishing’s. And who can argue with paying substantially below prevailing market rents? So it is certainly worth rolling the dice and keeping your fingers crossed. After all, someone has to win the housing lottery.