What you need to know…
In New York City, the need for genuinely affordable housing far outstrips the supply. Due to the tremendous influence of the real estate industry in our politics, our supply of housing that’s affordable to low, moderate, and middle income families is in rapid decline, as loopholes have been created to allow landlords to opt-out of subsidy programs, and to convert rent-regulated apartments to unregulated luxury-rent apartments.
While subsidized housing is an essential component of our housing landscape, most affordable housing is in privately-owned, for-profit buildings that are subject to rent-regulation. Rent stabilization and rent control – programs that regulate the rate of rent increases and causes for eviction – protect nearly twice as many tenants as all other affordable housing programs combined.
Read below for a brief description of the active affordable housing programs in New York City:
Public Housing – New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) owns and operates 178,000 public housing apartments in New York City. Regulations may vary depending on whether a development was built with federal, state, or city funds, but most regulations cover all NYCHA-managed apartments across the city.
Public housing apartments operate according to specific rules, and are exempt from certain local laws.
Tenants in public housing pay 30 percent of their household income towards rent, up to the maximum rent levels for the apartment size.
Tenants must earn below the income limits, and meet other criteria. For eligible candidates, the wait time for an interview varies depending on their priority code, with employed households and certain high need categories getting preference. The wait time for income-eligible households who are not in a priority category is said to average 9 years. Note that tenants must keep reapplying to stay on the waiting list for open apartments.
The NYCHA website provides information on how to apply for an aparment in public housing.
Section 8 portable vouchers (Housing Choice Voucher program)
The Section 8 program allows tenants to rent apartments in privately-owned buildings and pay 30 percent of thier income towards rent, with Section 8 paying the difference between the tenant’s portion and the full rent for the apartment.
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) administers just under 100,000 Section 8 vouchers in NYC – but the funding for the program has run out and the waiting list for vouchers is currently closed. (Exceptions: New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has some funds set aside for particular developments, and in very limited cases, NYCHA can release emergency vouchers.)
A local law recently protected some tenants with Section 8 and other rental assistance vouchers from discrimination based on their lawful source-of-income. In New York City, it is now illegal for a landlord to refuse to rent an apartment to a tenant based solely on his or her intention to pay using a rent subsidy, or to refuse to accept such subsidy from an existing tenant, if the landlord owns any buildings with at least six apartments. If you believe that you have been discriminated against based on your lawful source of income or because you have a rent subsidy, contact the New York City Human Rights Commission at 311.
Project-based Section 8 buildings
Project-based Section 8 is a subsidized housing program for particular developments. Tenants living in the building pay 30% of their income toward rent.
There are approximately 90,000 project-based Section 8 apartments in New York City. For tenants, the program operates similar to the Section 8 portable vouchers, except that the Section 8 contract is for that particular building, and cannot be moved to another apartment.
When government contracts to participate in the project-based Section 8 program expire, landlords may be able to ‘opt out’ of the program and raise rents to market levels.
Mitchell-Lama was a middle-income housing development program in New York that operated from the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, and developed over 140,000 rental and cooperative apartments. Mitchell-Lama buildings are privately owned, but under state contract to keep prices affordable to moderate & middle income families. The Mitchell-Lama program created both rental housing and limited-equity cooperative housing.
Mitchell-Lama rental buildings:
In Mitchell-Lama rental buildings, rents are usually the same across similarly sized units in the complex. Eligible tenants can participate in the SCRIE and DRIE programs to freeze their rents, and in some developments, there are additional rental assistance programs available. Landlords have the option of ‘opting out’ of the MItchell-Lama program at the end of their contracts, which typically last 20 years. The affordability protections from that point forward may depend on the date the the development was completed. If the building was occupied prior to 1974, it will likely be subject to the rent-stabilization laws, but if the complex was completed after 1974 (the cut-off date for when rent-stabilization laws applied across the board) tenants may face immediate rent hikes to market-rate prices, or eviction, if no additional contracts for rent subsidies in the development are negotiated.
Mitchell-Lama coop buildings.
Mitchell-Lama cooperative buildings involve a form of resident-ownership called ‘limited-equity’. Residents own the apartments they live in, but they are limited in their ability to profit from the sale of the apartment while the building is subject to the program’s rules. Instead of rent, residents pay maintenance fees for the upkeep of the property. Most Mitchell-Lama cooperative buildings have very strict resale restrictions that disallow profiteering, but at the end of a contract period (usually 20 years) tenants are given the option of converting to market-rate ownership (i.e. the ability to sell for a profit) or staying in the Mitchell-Lama program and keeping the units affordable to another generagion – as well as keeping the tax incentives and subsidies that come with staying in the program.
Searching for a Mitchell-Lama rental or coop apartment:
Each Mitchell-Lama development maintains its own waiting list – and the wait time varies depending on the demand. For a list of Mitchell Lamas with open waiting lists, download:
Rent stabilization is a set of laws that regulate rents and leases in certain privately owned apartment buildings in New York City and some suburban counties – generally buildings with six or more units built before 1974. Landlords can only raise rents in rent-stabilized apartments at levels set by local rent boards and with only limited exceptions, tenants cannot be evicted or denied the right to renew their lease, except for non-payment of rent, breaking terms of their lease, or being a nuisance. There are approximately one million rent-stabilized apartments in New York City.
Rent regulations do not assure that apartments are affordable to the residents living in them – and in fact can be very expensive – but in a city that consists primarily of privately owned apartments, rent regulation is the primary form of affordability protection for the vast majority of New Yorkers. The program protects over 2.5 million residents in over 1 million apartments – over half of New York City renters – and is larger than all other affordable housing programs combined. Rent stabilizization does not require subsidies, and landlords make sizeable profits, yet rents are often below those that are created through expensive subsidized so-called ‘affordable’ housing programs. The powerful landlord lobby has gotten politicians to signifcantly weaken rent regulation in the past 15 years – most signifcantly by allowing landlords to entirely destabilize apartments when tenants move out, leaving subsequent tenants with no protections.
Income eligibility: There is no income eligibility and the legal rent is not based on the income of the tenant. The system regulates the rent-increases of certain privately-owned apartments. Landlords can apply to deregulate an apartment that legally rents for $2,500 or above, and where the combined household income exceeds $200,000 for two consecutive years.
How to find a rent-stabilized apartment:
There is no central place to apply for rent-stabilized apartments. Two-thirds of the privately-owned rental housing in New York City is rent-stabilized, and landlords can choose to advertise vacant units in a number of ways. To find out if a particular apartment is rent-stabilized, you can chech whether this list of rent stabilized buildings, organized by zip code and then by borough, but be warned that individual apartments within a rent-stabilized building may be deregulated for a variety of reasons. The only way to determine if an apartment is rent-stabilized is to check the apartment’s unique history and leases.
See our informaiton sheet About Rent Stabilization for more.
New ‘affordable housing’ construction
New affordable housing programs are typically financed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) or are part of market-rate developments in programs such as 80/20 or inclusionary zoning. You must apply to each development separately as units are made available. There is no central waiting list, and eligibility criteria differers from development to development – and sometimes, unit by unit
Usually apartments are made available to households whose incomes fall within a certain range – set at a percentage of the Area Median Income (AMI). Once a household rents an apartment, the income eligibility requirements are no longer the basis of the rent (even though the households are required to recertify their incomes each year.) Rents do not go up or down in proportion to the tenant’s income (as with public housing or Section 8); instead, the units are typically subject to rent-stabilization, and the rent increases follow the same guidelines as other rent-stabilized apartments.
How to search for open lotteries for affordable housing:
- NYC Housing & Preservation Dept (HPD): http://www.nyc.gov/html/hpd/html/apartment/lotteries.shtml
- NYC Housing Development Corp:(HDC): http://www.nychdc.com/ApartmentSeekers/Applications.html
- NYC Affordable Housing Resource Center: http://www.nyc.gov/html/housinginfo/html