The NYC Housing Lottery

The PropertyClub Team
Apr 11th 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.

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 actually lessens the number 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 with the objective of providing otherwise unaffordable housing to the 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 is a head of 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 a number of 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

If someone wants to apply for the housing lottery, they should first go to the NYC Housing Connect website where the rules and procedures are laid out. Applying is pretty simple.

The first step is to create an account which will include an individual’s basic information such as income, address and contact information. Once all of the fields on the application are completed – don’t worry, it won’t take days to fill out – an application can be submitted.

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. Listed below are a few examples of buildings that are part of the housing lottery.

Some Examples of Affordable Housing Units

Many imagine that affordable housing units are dumps or located in neighborhoods that require the mastery of Mixed Martial Arts in order 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 a number of 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. In fact, 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.