At eight months pregnant Melissa left no stone unturned when she found out that her application had been drawn for the NYC housing lottery. A whopping 58,832 people entered the affordable housing lottery for a chance to rent one of the 105 below market-rate units up for grabs in a luxury apartment building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Winning the lottery meant that Melissa, her husband and their baby would live in a two-bedroom apartment with full amenities for $2,405 a month.
Melissa and her husband Brannon had lived in the same apartment in Greenpoint for over five years at the time their application was drawn for the affordable housing lottery. They were living in a one-bedroom apartment right above their landlord for $1950. They were expecting their first child and knew that they would have to move out of their one-bedroom soon enough.
They had poor credit and a lot of debt so being drawn for the housing lottery was a miracle. However, before they could move into their dream apartment, they had to complete an in-person interview with someone from the housing lottery. They were required to collect every financial document from bank statements to W2s to utility bills for the last year and a half as well as letters from work and a recommendation from their landlord.
Since Brannon was traveling for seven out of 10 days prior to their interview, a very pregnant Melissa was left to tackle this on her own. In those 10 days, not only did she have to gather all the required documents, but she also had to get a majority of the statements notarized.
On Oct. 20th just 10 days before Melissa’s due date, she arrived at 60th West Street with her husband for the interview of the century: a chance to win the NYC housing lottery. Melissa had accumulated a staggering three inches thick worth of documents. She triple checked the list she was given and made sure everything was in order. “If we don’t pass this interview, it will not be because I forgot a piece of paper,” she remembers thinking.
Melissa remembered that the waiting room was filled with a very diverse group of people: couples, friends, families etc. Everyone that was included within the household of each family had to be present. After waiting about an hour for their documents to be verified by the facilitating agency, Melissa and Brannon were finally called into an interview room.
“Everything checks out, but we still need one more thing,” declared the female ESL teacher who was conducting their interview. Though there was no physical doubt that Melissa was pregnant, the city required that the facilitating agent to collect proof that Melissa was indeed pregnant, thus ensuring her and her husband met the requirements of a two-bedroom apartment. Melissa pulled out a doctor’s note she received for a flight earlier that year that stated her due date was Oct. 30th.
Even though the third party agency verified all of Melissa’s documents, the next step was for the city of New York to verify all of the financial documents and statements she provided. The agent told them it would take 30 to 60 days for someone from the city to review their application and make a decision.
They thought they would hear back by December 2014, but Melissa and Brannon did not hear from the city until mid-April in 2015.
“Hi Melissa? Your application just came up for review, are you still interested in continuing the process for the housing lottery?” said the city clerk who phoned Melissa. “Yes, yes,” Melissa said.
But the paper trial did not end just yet. Now Melissa had to prove that her and her husband’s financial status had not changed from the time of their interview in October in order to still be considered for a two-bedroom apartment at their gross income bracket. At the time of their application their income was at the top of the $84,240 to $132,300 tier, however since Melissa was no longer working they were now towards the bottom of the tier by just a few hundred dollars.
After the city clerk confirmed that Melissa and Brannon still qualified and met the requirements, they went to the Greenpoint apartment building to view the last two apartments left for housing lottery winners from their bracket. They selected and apartment then signed the lease on the spot.
Only Melissa’s friends and family know she and Brannon won the housing lottery. Neither the building concierges nor any of her neighbors know that their family does not pay market price for the apartment.
Melissa insisted that the name of her apartment building not be included in this article since she fears that the other half of the complex that pay market price would look down on her family for being lower income.
As most New Yorkers can testify to, luxury is very relative in the city. Though their rent is stabilized, Melissa and Brannon aren’t sure whether or not they will able to resign their lease, as cost of living in Greenpoint continues to radically increase.
Melissa speculates that the housing lottery is the city’s way of stunting gentrification as new luxury buildings go up at twice the base rent in certain communities. However, it might be a little too late as many people have already been priced out of Greenpoint. The cost of housing in NYC is still too high even when you are able to pay below the market price.