Is it too much to ask for the roof over one’s head to be affordable? The full-blown symptoms of the present affordable housing crisis seem to point to “yes”. Finding affordable housing is a daunting challenge, but moping on your couch is not an action that will yield an apartment. There are affordable apartments to be had and the most efficient way to get them is by applying through the NYC Housing Connect website (nyc.gov/housingconnect), which is possible to do from the convenience of your couch. Once you complete your online profile, from that point on it’s only a matter of one click (on the “apply” buttons next to the projects) to apply to as many projects that have units within your income and household parameters. Prior to this you had to fill out a paper application for each development. A profile on the NYC Housing Connect website is able to apply to an unlimited number of apartments, as long as the profile fulfills income and household totals required on each application. It is up to the applicant to be sure they qualify, as the system doesn’t prevent applying to a site that is outside the requirements. Applications that don’t meet requirements will be rejected. Applying online also prevents the disqualification caused by sending more than one application per unit. You won’t be able to apply more than once to a specific unit online, and there is no automatic safeguard for paper applications.
NYC Housing Connect does have its pitfalls. The site has its glitches, pages can load very slowly, and beware the time limit: there is an automatic log-out after a span of inactivity. The slow page loads are usually due to high volume on the site. Site navigation is bit cumbersome and retro. At present NYC Housing Connect isn’t mobile-friendly and is in English only. These are first-world problems, you can surmount these challenges.
A good strategy is to print out an application and fill it out first to use it as a trial run and reference for completing your online NYC Housing Connect profile faster. This way you can avoid common mistakes that disqualify your application. A very common mistake is that the application isn’t filled out completely. It’s also helpful to have your all of your income and asset references at hand for a majority of applicants are rejected because their total income and/or their household count don’t match the requirements of the unit type applied for. You will be asked to prove your income during the interview, usually by showing last year’s W-2 form and the last six pay stubs you’ve received. You will also have to maintain your profile and keep it up to date, changes in income and household could change your eligibility for apartments you had applied for previously.
Another tip is to apply by location. Sometimes there is an advantage to living within the same community board that the housing is in, for there could be a percentage preference set for residents in that community board’s area. On the other hand, it might be easier to find affordable housing outside your community, and if you are open to that option you’ll multiply your chances of getting an affordable apartment.
Once you’ve applied patience is key. The average response time is between 2–10 months; it can also take more than a year to hear back. Sometimes when you hear back it’s bad news. If you receive a notice that your application was rejected, all is not lost. You can appeal if you have proof the reason given is erroneous. You will have to supply proof of the error and mail a copy of the rejection notice, letter of dispute, and proof within the deadline given. Remember to MAIL in your appeal. Although you’ll receive the rejection via email, it may not be clear that your appeal needs to be mailed in, and appeals sent by email are not usually accepted.
If you are selected for an interview, follow the instructions to schedule your screening. Collect all pertinent documentation to bring with you. This may include: birth certificates, Social Security cards, picture IDs, proof of incomes of all who will live with you, the lease of your present apartment, receipts for rent, recent gas or electric bills. Most importantly, keep the appointment or call to reschedule if life happens.
A variety of local community organizations offer help with the Housing Connect application process, especially for those who don’t have a computer or an internet connection and those whose primary language is other than English. St. Nicks Alliance’s Community Preservation on 306 Union Avenue assisted more than 1000 applicants in 2019. The number asking for assistance has increased annually since they’ve offered this service.
A question that regularly comes up is, “How is affordable defined?” The technical definition is affordable is defined as housing that costs no more than 30% of a household’s total income. Other factors come in to what developments offer as affordable. The base number they factor in is the AMI, which is the Area Median Income.
That “Median” word is not “average or mean income”, which would add up each individual income from the area and divide by the number of individual incomes. To find the median each individual amount is listed in order from lowest to highest; the amount that is in the center of that list is the median. For example, if an area has three incomes of $30K per year and one income of 100K per year, the median would be $30K. The income set for an area is determined by the American Community Survey (ACS). This survey is conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau who selects 3.5 million households to participate in the survey. Community advocates in North Brooklyn advocate that there should be more affordable opportunities for extremely low to middle incomes in the area. The amount and type (% of AMI, apartment size) of affordable units at a development is usually dependent upon guidelines determined by government subsidies.