Red tape keeping affordable units empty for 15 months

Report spotlights problems with city housing lotteries

New York /
Nov.November 17, 2021 08:00 AM
How long does it take to lease an affordable housing project? Too long

Jessica Katz, executive director at CHPC (CHPCNY, istock)

A year after the city overhauled its notorious application process for housing lotteries, a new study indicates the primary cause of lengthy delays in getting tenants into affordable units is the system’s onerous documentation requirements.

A report by the Citizens Housing & Planning Council found that buildings’ low-rent apartments often sit vacant for months while market-rate tenants move in, a gut punch for advocates working to house homeless New Yorkers and those with severe rent burdens.

“We have spent years improving our ability to bring new units online, expanding our supply of affordable housing,” said CHPC executive director Jessica Katz in a statement. “But if we can’t move vulnerable New Yorkers into them, something is wrong,”

Among the report’s most damning findings is that it takes over a year, on average, to fill a building’s lottery units after construction has wrapped.

One in three housing lotteries did not kick off until months after a building was ready for occupancy, the report found. And on average, residents who applied for a lottery while a project was under construction waited a year and three months for all the building’s units to be filled. One project in Downtown Brooklyn filled its last affordable unit more than five years after it received its certificate of occupancy, according to the report.

CHPC examined data on 21,382 apartments across 426 projects advertised on NYC Housing Connect between 2014 and 2018, corroborating the data with the property management companies overseeing a sample of the projects.

The organization said that because the Department of Housing Preservation and Development only provided data on the rent-up timelines of buildings — from the lottery date and certificate of occupancy to the date the last affordable unit was filled — it was not able to determine how long it took to lease individual apartments or how quickly the majority of units were leased.

The report added that the Mayor’s Management Report — a public account of city agencies’ performance — does not track the time it takes to rent affordable housing units in projects financed by HPD.

The primary cause of the delays, the report says, is red tape.

Applicants who are informed they are in the running for a unit must provide “copious financial, tax and employment verification documents,” the report said, including copies of minors’ birth certificates, up to six recent consecutive pay stubs and checking account statements, photo IDs, Social Security cards and W-2 forms, among other materials.

By comparison, it’s common for landlords to ask market-rate tenants only for identification and two recent pay stubs and bank statements, and to agree to a credit check.

An affordable housing candidate who does not submit all the required documents is moved to the back of the line, according to posts on the NYC Housing Lottery Forum.

“I have been through the process before,” one user wrote. “I had a good number but unfortunately, they requested more documents, and I couldn’t get it in within a timely manner so they disqualified me.”

The wait times some tenants face rival the average time it takes to construct a project after obtaining the required permits. A 2019 Furman Center analysis found that it takes just under two years, on average, to complete a residential project in the city after securing permits.

CHPC’s report said the process could be sped up by screening tenants while buildings are under construction so renters could move in as soon as work wraps up.

The organization’s other recommendations include tracking housing lottery performance through the Mayor’s Management Report and setting performance goals, reducing application requirements where possible and improving customer service.





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