The NYC Affordable Housing Lottery, also known as 80/20, helps make renting an apartment in NYC a little more affordable. Developers get a tax break from the government to build apartments in nice neighborhoods in exchange for renting at least 20% of the apartments to low- and middle-income renters (those earning 50% or less of the area’s median income). It’s an opportunity for renters to live in some of the most coveted areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn, in new buildings with amenities such as doormen, laundry facilities, or gyms.

The demand for the 80/20 apartments is high. The New York Times reported in 2001 that as many as 10,000 applications are submitted for every 100 apartments. A waiting list is created from the applicants who are eligible for the lottery. The application process is difficult because so many people wanted to move into these desirable apartment buildings, but not impossible. Here are the six steps to apply for the NYC Affordable Housing Lottery.

Although finding an apartment in New York City is always a challenge, the city has a few affordable housing options for those who are eligible. Current programs include public housing, Section 8 vouchers, Mitchell-Lama apartments, and apartment lotteries. The state and the city finance or subsidize housing developments available by lottery.

Who is Eligible?

You must be a New York resident to qualify for an apartment lottery. The Open Lottery System involves a variety of owners who each have their different requirements for their developments. Eligibility typically requires income, credit scores, and employment. Applicants can appeal rejections they suspect are based on housing court records (but you may end up on a waitlist). Several apartments also limit the number of people who may live in a unit.

1. Find an 80/20 building

Developers of 80/20 apartment buildings are required to post application information at the construction site. The program gives preference to applicants who are local to the area in which they are applying, so take a walk around your location to see if any new apartments are being built that you can apply for.

Developers are also required to advertise the new affordable housing project in a minimum of three publications. Keep an eye on Brownstoner and Brick Underground, as well as city-wide newspapers, for announcements of new housing in the program. You can also visit the city-run Housing Connect website to find and apply to affordable housing projects.

When tenants move out of existing 80/20 apartment buildings, landlords are required to maintain a waiting list of individuals looking to rent the vacant units. Call the management companies of buildings you are interested in, and ask to get on the list. Because of the high demand and limited housing, it is recommended that you apply to 20 or more buildings each year.

Current lotteries exist for low-income, middle-income, and mixed-income apartments (the Department for the Aging has additional information on senior housing in each borough). You must fall into the income bracket required for each application you submit. Those who win the lottery, however, can remain in their apartment regardless of future income changes. Currently available units are always available on HDC’s Now Renting section. Each unit can receive between 40 – 50 applications, so it is important to keep watch on HDC and NYC Housing Connect.

2. How to Apply to the building(s)

As with all housing applications, you will need to have all of your documents in order. Once you have created a profile on NYC Housing Connect, you can begin receiving emails for eligible units. Once you have found a unit and verified you are eligible for that particular development, you can send in an application by mail or apply online (it is important to note that only one person per household can apply for a unit). Be patient! The waiting period can take anywhere from two to ten months.

If you are selected, you will be called in for an interview and must have the paperwork to prove your eligibility. If all goes well, you will sign your lease and rest assured that you can remain in your new home even if your income goes up (or down). If you are rejected, you should receive a reason for rejection and a contact number to submit an appeal.

Finding a place to rent in New York City requires work for people of all income levels, and is especially difficult for those seeking affordable housing. It is essential to keep up hope and not to become discouraged. New York residents have been known to experience rejection and wait for lists through numerous applications before winning the apartment lottery. Keep trying, and remember that the city is continuously expanding its affordable housing programs so that new developments are continually underway. Housing advocates are working hard to ensure the city can keep providing new options, and the lottery program is still growing.

3. Checklist: Prepare and gather paperwork for your interview

You will need to bring several documents with you if you are selected for an interview, including:

Current Apartment

  • Copy of your current lease, if you rent your apartment. If you do not have a lease, a notarized letter from your landlord.
  • Copies of your last three (3) to twelve (12) rent receipts or canceled rent checks.
  • Copies of your most recent electric and gas bills (in your name and showing your current address).
  • Copy of your most recent telephone bill (in your name and showing your current address).
  • If you do not rent your apartment and you are living with someone else, bring a notarized letter from your housemate along with a copy of their lease and copies of their utility bills.

Household Members

  • Copies of birth certificates for each person in the household
  • Copies of Social Security cards for each person in the household
  • Copies of picture ID for all persons over 18 (examples: driver’s license, passport, Military ID, NYC Municipal ID, non-driver ID.
  • Copies of school letters verifying enrollment for everyone attending school (examples: New York City public school, private school, college, university)

4. Prepare to show your current home

If you get through the interview process, you will be asked to accept a home visit. Clean up your existing apartment before the visit. The inspectors are looking to see if you are going to be a decent tenant.

5. Sign your new lease

If after the home visit and interview you are invited to move into one of the 80/20 apartments, you will then be asked to sign the lease. If your income changes between the time when you completed the application and the time you move in, you could lose the apartment. It isn’t yours until you physically move in.

6. Annual Recertification

Once you move in, your income can increase, and you can’t be kicked out for it. Every year you will have to recertify your living situation, which involves submitting more documentation including tax returns, pay stubs, and bank statements.

Affordable Housing: Applicant Income Guide



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