NYC Affordable Housing
I want you to get affordable housing.
NYC 1999. It was the height of the DotCom bubble and I was looking for an apartment with a former girlfriend. There was so much competition for housing, you couldn't take a shit without hiring a broker, let alone rent an apartment.
Our goal was a two-bedroom for $1,100 per month. We knew we probably weren't going to find anything in Manhattan, so we started looking in Queens and Brooklyn.
Everyone, EVERYone I told about our apartment size and price specifications said we would NEVER get that. It didn't matter if it was a friend, co-worker, random person on the street, I never heard the word "NEVER" said so many times me on a daily basis. For nearly a year, not one single person ever said anything but, "You will never get a two-bedroom--not even a one-bedroom--for that price."
We ultimately focused our search along the L train subway line. Our primary reason for doing so was because we weren't sure where our jobs would be located in the future and the L train hit every major train line in Manhattan from east-to-west. We also discovered, by looking at at a true scale map, the train stops along the L line were quite close together. So what looked like a stop WAY out on the subway map, was actually a 15 minute ride to Union Square.
Once we focused our search on the L line, we worked consistently with three different brokers. (Why did we choose those three? Probably because they were the only ones who returned our calls.)
Even though we stated our price was $1,100 (which in reality was a stretch for us), we were consistently shown apartments priced between $1,200 and $1,600. When we weren't biting at any of these places, the real estate agents reluctantly began showing us lower priced places - and always with the cautionary phrase - "You need to carry a gun to live in 'that' neighborhood."
And it dawned on me, they were trying to scare and panic us into taking a higher priced apartment--not too mention what a racist and classist remark this was. There were in fact, a lot of apartments available in our price range, but realtors were keeping the pressure on to get us (and all their clients) to rent THE most expensive apartment they could possible get us to sign for.
When we discovered this game (which is still in play today) we changed our tune each time we talked to one of the realtors. "Now we are actually looking for a two-bedroom for $1,000 a month." A few days later we said, "Now we're actually looking for a two-bedroom for $950 per month."
Then one day, after a real estate agent brought us back to her office--after she had just showed us a beautiful apartment for $1,350 and expected us to sign a lease--we sat staring at the wall behind her desk where there was a giant sign posted saying TWO-BEDROOM RAILROADS FOR $850. We pointed to the sign and said, "That's the apartment we want you to show us!!"
Completely disgusted and discourage with us (and all the time she spent showing us apartments out of our price range) she grumbled, "Ok. Steve - will you please take them to see THAT apartment?" Steve was her assistant, and it was clearly below her to show us such a inexpensive apartment--and the realtors fee she could expect to receive from a lease signing.
We did take that officially rent stabilized apartment off of the Jefferson stop on the L train.
Now: 2018. I currently live in an affordable apartment at Columbus Circle (Manhattan) that my partner and I won via a housing lottery. We got this through the NYC Affordable Housing Lottery. This particular apartment is in a new building that is participating in a 20/80 program. Participating buildings reserve 20% of their units for very low, low and middle income people at a deeply reduced rental rate. (The building receives a tax break for participating.) And, the rest of the 80% of their units are priced at market rate. To give you a sense of price, the rent stabilized lease I signed for my apartment is a one-bedroom for $810 a month. (The market rate of this same one-bedroom is $5,000.)
Is this real? YES. I know five people in my outer circle of friends who have won affordable housing lotteries in the past 5 years. I have a close friend who has recently been invited to interviews for two different apartment buildings. I have a co-worker who is in the process of getting an apartment.
To put my affordable housing good fortune into perspective, I have been applying for affordable housing opportunities for 20 years. In 2010 my number came up for a studio in a building near Union Square. I went to my first screening interview (where I also had to bring tax documents and proof of income), and found out that the affordable rent expired after 5-years and would go to market rate. (I withdrew my application because -- what? I was gonna have to move after 5 year in an ever escalating and gentrifying real estate landscape?) I had also been on a 10-year waitlist for Manhattan Plaza. (This is an apartment complex reserving 70% of their units for artists in the performing arts.) Rent is based on tenants' annual income and goes up and down with said income. When my number came up at Manhattan Plaza, the most recent 3-years of my income was evaluated to confirm if I qualified to received a unit. Unfortunately, 1 of my 3 years did not qualify.
But as luck would have it, me and my partner's number came up for The Encore and we began the multiple interviewing and screening appointments in 2015 and have now resided here for two years.
Affordable housing has it's pros and cons, but general regulations are getting better. For example, it is illegal for buildings to have "poor doors". Poor doors are entrances reserved for low income residents and they are not allowed to use the "regular" entrance nor the amenities of the building. (There are a couple of notorious buildings that created "poor doors" before this was outlawed.) In our lease and related paperwork, there is a murky area that indicates our affordable housing lease may discontinue after 20-years. To date, we have not been able to get a straight answer from anybody about what this means exactly..
In the meantime I am sending a rally cry to all those in the 20/80 NYC Affordable Housing Program, NYCHA Housing, and ANYONE looking for permanent, long-term affordable housing to ban together for support in finding, keeping and securing affordable housing programs.
Here are resources to get information about the affordable housing lottery and NYC housing resources:
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) offers affordable housing programs throughout the City.
NYC Housing Connect: You can search and apply for affordable housing.
NYC Mitchell-Lama Connect: View Mitchell-Lama developments that are accepting entries. You can create or update your account and enter waiting list lotteries.
NYC Housing Development Corporation: Get information about NYC Housing Development Corporation-financed developments accepting applications for apartments.
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Public Housing
Housing Options for Seniors
Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE)
Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) Program
Join the Facebook Group 20%ers Unite to connect with 20%ers across the 5 boroughs and in your building!
READ Article from Curbed NY - 2019: Finding an affordable NYC apartment just got a bit easier
NYC Real Estate Investment Cooperative Facebook Group
Almost daily, AMNY and MetroNY, (the free papers in the subways) have full page ads for new buildings that are opening up a 20/80 lottery.
Here are some things we all need to be savvy about:
Look around and see the building boom of luxury (and non-luxury) buildings and high-rises in all 5-boroughs. Many of these building are participating in the 20/80 program.
And speaking of the building boom, do you think every single unit is, or will, get filled? Let's say a building can project that at any given time, they can fill 100 units, but perhaps not more. But, if they build 200 units, each and every apartment that sits empty is a business loss/tax write-off. Look at the thousands of new, luxury high-rises all over the 5-boroughs. They are not all at 100% occupancy. In fact, having a $5,000 apartment sitting empty is more profitable for the company than renting it at an affordable, let's say, $1,000 a month. Taking calculated losses is part of the real estate business profitering plan. And it's a corrupt set up, in my opinion. And it contributes to keeping the housing crisis in crisis.
Avoid sabotaging thinking like, "I'll never get accepted because so many people apply," or "I make too much or too little money to qualifiy." Incomes change yearly and sometimes drastically. And from the time you apply, to the time your number comes up, you might be in just the right income bracket! And remember, if you itemize your taxes because you are a freelancer, for example, your adjustable gross income is often dramatically lower than your gross. There is no reason not to sign up for NYC Housing Connect right now and register yourself so you can start applying for lotteries.
If you feel overwhelmed by it all--ask your friends for emotional support. Or even ask them to help you organize you documents.
Start getting ready for when your number does come up. Organize your tax and financial documents so you are ready to make copies to take to your qualifying interviews. Get a small (or large) filing cabinet and some manilla folders and organize your shit. (You probably need this stuff organized anyway for numerous other things in your life.)
Rents are skyrocketing across the U.S., though obviously there are still many places to live where real estate is less expensive and the cost of living is lower. But, if you are thinking about leaving NYC, don't forget you'll probably have to have a car and
Triple AAA (to get it towed when--not if--it breaks down)
Regular oil change
Regular maintenance (carborator, tires, fuel pump, battery, blah $$$ blah $$$ blah $$$ and blah.)
Speaking of social change - don't be one of those people who is renting a room in your apartment and "over-charging" a roommate to cover your expenses. Gross! Ask yourself, "Would YOU want to live with anyone who is over-charging you, and not sharing the details about the actual rent?" Practicing honesty and transparency is a win-win for everyone.
I want you to get your affordable housing in NYC--and--anywhere else in the U.S.
If you have any resources or tips you can share, please leave them in the comment section. Let's all help each other secure affordable housing.
P.S. Non-housing, but awesome resources in NYC!