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Is it hard to win nyc housing lottery?

Winning the New York City affordable housing lottery, also known as the NYC Affordable Housing Lottery, can be very difficult. The city receives an enormous number of applications for a relatively small number of available affordable housing units. However, while the odds are stacked against applicants, it is still possible for some to beat the system and secure affordable housing. In this article, we will examine the NYC housing lottery process, eligibility requirements, apartment options, and strategies for improving your chances of winning.

What is the NYC Housing Lottery?

The New York City Housing Lottery refers to the process by which the city allocates affordable housing units to qualifying low and moderate-income households. There are often 50+ applicants for every available affordable housing unit in New York, so a lottery system is used to randomly select applicants.

The lottery is run by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). When new affordable housing units become available, HPD advertises the lottery and invites eligible applicants to apply during an open registration period. A computerized lottery system then randomly selects applicants who will be offered an apartment.

Types of NYC Affordable Housing Units

There are a few different types of affordable housing programs in NYC:

– New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) Public Housing – This is the oldest and largest affordable housing program in the city. It provides long-term housing for low-income families in developments owned and managed by NYCHA. Residents pay 30% of their household income in rent.

– Mitchell-Lama Housing – middle-income rental and co-op housing program started in the 1950s. To qualify, household income can’t exceed certain limits based on family size.

– Inclusionary Housing Program – Created in 1987 to incentivize developers to build affordable units by offering a tax break. 20% of units must be designated as permanently affordable in new residential projects.

– Mixed Income Programs – Developments with a mix of market-rate and affordable apartments. Lottery held for the affordable units only.

NYC Housing Lottery Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for the lottery, applicants must meet certain income and household size requirements which vary by housing development. Here are some typical eligibility rules:

– Household income – There are minimum and maximum income limits based on theaverage median income (AMI) for the area. Typically households must earn between 40-80% of AMI.

– Household size – Occupancy requirements limit the number of people who can live in an apartment based on unit size. For example, a family of 4 would only qualify for a 2+ bedroom apartment.

– Credit score – Many developers require a minimum credit score between 650-680. Applicants with bankruptcies, evictions, or foreclosures are often disqualified.

– Criminal history – Applicants with certain types of criminal convictions may not qualify depending on the housing provider’s rules.

– Assets – Applicants can’t have assets exceeding a certain amount, often $200k – $500k excluding retirement accounts.

– Residency – Some programs require applicants to live or work in NYC and prove a residency tie to the city.

Income Requirements

As noted above, household income is one of the main eligibility factors. Here are some examples of common maximum income limits:

Household Size 80% AMI 60% AMI 40% AMI
1 person $69,040 $51,780 $34,520
2 people $78,960 $59,220 $39,480
3 people $88,800 $66,600 $44,400
4 people $98,640 $73,980 $49,320

Minimum incomes may also apply depending on the housing program. Applicants must submit documents like tax returns and pay stubs to prove eligibility. Income levels are adjusted annually based on the New York City region’s AMI.

What Kinds of Apartments Are Available?

The NYC affordable housing lottery includes a wide variety of apartment types across the five boroughs. Here are some features to know about:


Affordable units can be found in all types of neighborhoods from Downtown Brooklyn to the Upper East Side. However, many new developments are concentrated in gentrifying areas like East New York, Harlem, and Long Island City.

Building Types

– Purpose-built affordable housing – Newly constructed buildings with all affordable units

– Mixed-income developments – Affordable and market-rate units in the same building

– Income-restricted units in market-rate buildings – Some units with discounted rents

Apartment Sizes

From studios to 3+ bedroom apartments. Units are assigned based on household size eligibility.


Many new affordable developments offer amenities like fitness centers, rooftop lounges, bike storage, on-site parking, and more. However, don’t expect luxury condo-style features.


Rent is calculated at 30% of monthly household income. Tenants earning less pay lower rents for the same unit. Rent caps vary:

– In 2023, the max rent for a family of 3 at 60% AMI is around $2,000/month

– For 40% AMI, the max rent for a 3-person household is about $1,300

Rents remain stable and landlords can only raise rents minimally each year.

What Are the Chances of Winning the Lottery?

The odds of winning an NYC affordable housing lottery are extremely low. Let’s break down the numbers:

– New affordable unit inventory per year: 5,000-10,000 apartments

– Lottery applications per year: >500,000

– Odds of winning: As low as 1 in 100 or worse

Themismatch between supply and demand causes intense competition. Based on these rough numbers, about 5% of applicants win a lottery each year. However, individual odds vary greatly based on household eligibility, number of applications submitted, and desirability of the development.

Some key factors affecting the chances of winning:

– Number of applications submitted – Applying to multiple lotteries improves odds

– Household size – Larger families have better chances as there is more turnover in bigger apartments

– Income level – Lower income bands have higher odds as there are income targets

– Borough – Less competition in upper Manhattan and outer boroughs compared to popular areas

So while the odds seem daunting, some persistence and strategy can help improve your chances. But it takes patience and you will likely apply unsuccessfully for over a year before winning a lottery.

Tips for Winning the NYC Affordable Housing Lottery

Here are some top tips for maximizing your odds of winning the NYC affordable housing lottery:

1. Apply to Multiple Lotteries

Experts recommend applying to dozens or even hundreds of lotteries to improve your chances over time. Subscribe to housing emails, check listings regularly, and apply for any lottery where you meet the basic eligibility requirements. Persistence is key.

2. Fit the Target Household Size

If you are a larger family needing 2+ bedrooms, your chances are better as there is higher demand for smaller units. Prioritize lotteries advertising larger apartments.

3. Consider Less Desirable Locations

You will face much less competition applying for units in neighborhoods further from Manhattan. Focus your search on relatively affordable areas in the outer boroughs.

4. Ask About Set-Asides

Some developments reserve a portion of units for specific groups like municipal workers or the formerly homeless. If you qualify for a set-aside, you only compete against others in the same group.

5. Work to Improve Your Credit

Many housing providers have minimum credit score requirements. Anything you can do to boost your score will help your eligibility. Pay down debts, dispute errors, etc.

6. Apply with Multiple Household Compositions

If you have a fluid household situation, apply with different family sizes and compositions (i.e. just you, with a partner, with roommates, etc). More applications = more chances.

7. Get Support from Housing Advocates

Non-profit housing counselors can help walk you through the process, review eligibility, and assist with applications. Especially helpful for those new to the process.

8. Follow Up After Applying

Don’t wait silently after submitting applications. Politely follow up to confirm your materials were received and complete. Shows extra interest.

9. Act Fast When Selected

If you win a lottery, you must sign a lease within a short window of time (usually 7-14 days). Be prepared to put down a deposit and move quickly.

Pros of Winning the Lottery

Winning the lottery provides huge benefits:

– Significant rent discounts compared to market rates

– Apartment rents remain stable and affordable long-term

– Excellent housing quality standards for new construction

– Good locations near transit and amenities

– No rental history, employment requirements or broker fees

For low and moderate income households, affordable housing is the golden ticket to secure housing in an unforgiving and expensive market. The program allows families to put down roots and invest in their community long-term.

Children benefit from housing stability and the opportunity to stay in one neighborhood and attend the same schools continuously. Affordable housing remains out of reach for many working families without the city’s assistance.

Cons of Winning the Lottery

Of course, participating in the lottery program also comes with some trade-offs:

Supply Shortage

Due to limited availability, you may not get your top choice neighborhood or building. Most applicants wait 1-2+ years to win their first lottery.

Application Burden

The paperwork required for income verification and background checks can be an onerous process, especially for multiple applications.


Some affordable buildings have been mismanaged by city agencies or private operators. Tenants may deal with layers of unresponsive bureaucracy.

Limited Choices

You can only apply for available affordable lotteries, restricting apartment search options. Some buildings also have extensive waiting lists post-lottery.

Few Subletting Options

Subletting affordable apartments is restricted. So you may be locked-in long term with no exit strategy if you wish to move.


Illegal overcrowding is an issue in some affordable units as household composition expands over time while units remain cramped.

Overall the pros of affordable housing far outweigh the cons for most low and middle income New Yorkers who win the lottery. But you need realistic expectations about supply limitations and red tape.

Eligibility for Other NYC Housing Assistance Programs

In addition to the lottery, those struggling to find affordable housing may qualify for other city housing resources and programs including:

Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher

Provides rent vouchers to help pay landlord. 4+ year waitlist.

NYCHA Public Housing

Public housing developments run by the NYC Housing Authority. Multi-year waitlist.

Mitchell-Lama Developments

Middle income rental and co-op housing program. Limited openings.

Department of Homeless Services

Shelters, eviction prevention assistance, and permanent housing support services.

Senior Affordable Housing

Affordable housing for low-income seniors 62+. Income rules apply.

Supportive Housing

Permanent affordable housing with access to social services. Referral required.

Check if you may qualify for these other affordable and subsidized housing resources in NYC if you are struggling. Some have faster wait times than the lottery.


The NYC affordable housing lottery certainly lives up to its name. With over 500,000 applicants fighting for 5,000-10,000 apartments every year, the odds of winning are very low. However, low and moderate income New Yorkers have incredible motivation to persist and keep applying. A lottery win allows them to gain a coveted foothold in one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.

While winning takes luck, certain strategies around household size, location, set-asides, and persistence can help improve your chances significantly over time. The rewards of finally securing an affordable home are life-changing for the lucky few who beat the odds. Just brace yourself for a marathon process that will likely take years. But once you win your golden affordable housing ticket, you’ll gain long-term housing stability in the city you love.