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A Guide to Affordable Housing in NYC

The term “affordable housing” is often thrown around in New York City real estate news. Earlier this summer, Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined an ambitious plan for the next ten years to greatly increase the availability of it in New York. And just recently, news of a “poor door” — a separate entrance for the affordable units in a market-rate development — caused a good deal of controversy. But what exactly is affordable housing in New York City? And most importantly, how can you get it? Here’s a basic rundown of how it works in New York, and why city-sponsored affordable housing may not be as impossible to attain as you may think.


A sign for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio's new housing plan at an affordable housing site in Brooklyn (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

A sign for NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new housing plan at an affordable housing site in Brooklyn (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

What is affordable housing?
Affordable housing exists in many forms throughout New York. You may think of the hulking public housing developments, which went up in huge swaths under Parks Commissioner Robert Moses through the ’40s and ’60s. While many of these public housing developments still stand and continue to provide affordable apartments, the city does not build them anymore.

Nowadays, the city builds affordable housing developments in different ways. Sometimes the city sponsors the construction of an entire building — like this one in Harlem. And sometimes the city offers building incentives for private developers to include affordable housing units in otherwise market-rate (read: expensive) developments. These types of developments are commonly referred to as “mixed income developments.”

The controversy of the “poor door” comes from a mixed income development. Private developers can offer different amenities or apartment finishes to the affordable units and the market-rate units. Most mixed-income developments, however, offer the same amenities to all building residents.

Affordable housing vs. rent stabilized
Affordable housing is offered specifically through the city, and is only attainable through a lottery process (more on that later). You do not have to apply to live in a rent stabilized building, although the city does enforce rent control laws. Finding an apartment with rent stabilization can just be a luck of the draw — some buildings have it, others don’t. (You’ll find it more often in older buildings, not newer developments.) It basically means the landlord can only modestly raise your rent after you’ve occupied your apartment. Here’s a helpful FAQ on rent stabilization in New York

How to apply for affordable housing
The city provides affordable housing for both low- and middle- income New Yorkers, meaning that more New Yorkers are candidates for affordable housing than they realize. Follow the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) on Facebook and Twitter to learn about all the applications available for affordable housing. The HPD will provide strict guidelines for what you’re allowed to rent — for example, one person making a salary between $31,450¬≠-$35,280 can apply for a one-bedroom apartment priced at $844 a month. If you fit the salary requirements, you can apply for the housing online.¬†Here’s the process to expect once you’ve submitted your application — it usually takes a long time.

Right now, there’s massive demand for affordable housing in New York. The city received 50,000 applications for 124 affordable apartments at the development in Harlem mentioned earlier. While the competition is fierce, it doesn’t mean you should give up hope. Mayor de Blasio’s plan promises much more affordable development than former Mayor Bloomberg provided. There are still major questions on how, exactly, his 10-year vision will unfold, but the underlying plan is to preserve or create 200,000 affordable units total — 80,000 new units and 120,000 existing ones preserved.

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