image of not winning any housing lotteries nyc

Question: I’ve been applying for these lottery apartments. What a joke! I have not been called for any apartments. I have the income for the apartments I apply for. What’s the problem?

— Native New Yorker!

Dear Native:

I’ve been buying Lotto tickets for 30 years, and I’m still not a gazillionaire. So what part of “lottery” is confusing to you?

As the name suggests, the first step in obtaining one of the city’s affordable apartments is having your name pulled out of a metaphorical hat. And there are a lot of names in there.

City Limits, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization and long-time fixture on the city scene, actually did the math on one Brooklyn project in 2017. Based on numbers obtained through a Freedom of Information request, City Limits’ investigation was an eye-opener.

The raw numbers: There were 92,743 applications submitted for 297 rental apartments at 535 Carlton Ave., one building in the giant Pacific Park development in what was formerly called Atlantic Yards. One building doesn’t necessarily reflect the entire housing lottery system, but it certainly shows how the system works and where you may stand in it.

So let’s start there. Just simple luck of the draw, and your application has only a 0.3 percent chance of being picked. Odds get even longer as various restrictions and set-asides kick in.

For example, 15 low-income units were distributed outside the lottery under a new policy for homeless households. Fifty percent of the lottery units were reserved for residents of the four nearest community districts, and five percent were set aside for municipal employees.

Those odds are bad enough, but they get even worse as you break down the available units by size and income “tiers” — especially for the poorest families.

You have better chances for the “middle-income” apartments, which may require six-figure incomes, than for the least expensive places. City Limits found 2,203 applications for 148 middle-income spots, but a whopping 67,000 for just 90 low-income homes.

So you can see, your chances on any given lottery are slim. That doesn’t mean lotteries are a joke. Luck pays a huge part.

But you’re a native New Yorker, you should know the score by now.

David Crook is a veteran journalist and author of The Complete Wall Street Journal Real-Estate Investing and Homeowner’s Guidebooks. Do you have a question about anything real estate-related in NYC? Write him at For verification purposes, please include your name and a phone number; neither will be published. Note: Nothing in this column should be considered professional legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.

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