By Sabina Mollot
On the opening day of the affordable apartment lottery, several market rate residents who spoke with Town & Village seemed doubtful they’d be impacted personally, due to being above the income limits, but nonetheless said they were happy for others who might have a chance at getting picked. And as for the city’s decision to not give insider preference, residents we spoke with seemed equally nonchalant, saying it made sense to give all applicants an equal chance.
While strolling through Peter Cooper Village with her toddler daughter on Tuesday, Jordan Halladay, a resident of two years, said, “It doesn’t affect us. I wish it did. The requirements are decently high but I wish it was true middle class.” But, she added, “It’s great if it will bring in some families that need a nice apartment.” She added that she was glad current stabilized tenants would be able to stay under the preservation deal. “I know some neighbors who live on some kind of pension, and would have to move (if rents were at market rate), but in this situation they can stay.”
Another market rater however, said he might give the lottery a shot. Jazz musician Dimi Ditrow, who also teaches and has a company that produces music videos, said he thought he and his photographer wife would be able to meet the income guidelines.
The regulations vary but for there are two tiers of income caps. For 90 percent of the available 5,000 units, the cap is households earning no more than 165 percent of the area median income. That’s $128,205 for a family of three, who’d pay $3,205 for a two-bedroom apartment. For the remaining 10 percent it’s a maximum of 80 percent of the area median income at $62,150 for a family of three, who’d get that same apartment for $1,554. The lowest price possible is $1,210 for a studio for a tenant at the 80 percent AMI level, for someone earning a maximum income of $48,400.
“We would do it if it’s possible,” said Ditrow, before expressing concern that he was currently in the middle of a lease, having moved to Peter Cooper in June. But he brightened after hearing Blackstone would break any lease for tenants if they got picked for an affordable unit. “That’s great. Why not? We can try.” Ditrow then wondered, “What are the odds?”
While it’s difficult to predict how many will enter the lottery, a maximum of 15,000 can put their names in. After two years, would-be renters who haven’t yet been picked must re-apply.
But another new resident of Peter Cooper said he knew he wouldn’t be eligible — he and his wife had already looked into it.
“It won’t impact us. We make too much. We’re in that quagmire where the amount makes you (ineligible for housing programs), but we’re still getting high increases.”
The resident, who works in financial services and asked that only his first name, Brian, be published, has become accustomed to paying high rent. However, he balked when given a $1,600 increase on his last lease renewal, also in Peter Cooper. This was when the $4,300 preferential was hiked up to the legal rent of close to $6,000. He then moved to another less pricey unit in the complex. He’d previously been given the unusual option of a six-month lease with an option to extend.
This was after selling his family’s home in 2013. “We’re a family of four and we’re trying to find a larger place. So this is still a place of transition,” he said.
Brian quipped that one way to get on the list legitimately would be to divorce his wife so they could enter the lottery separately. “But,” he noted, “divorce takes a while.” Brian said he still thought the lottery was “definitely a good thing.”
Stuyvesant Town sisters Annie and Catherine Sullivan, while out walking their dogs, also cheered the opportunity for affordability though neither thought they’d qualify. The Sullivans live in the same building in different market rate apartments.
Catherine’s an attorney in family law, Annie a folk music singer/songwriter. Catherine, who just moved to Stuy Town this year, said, “I’m happy it’s happening.” She added that she thought the lack of preference for existing residents made sense. “It’s more fair that way.”
Annie added, “It would be nice if there was preference for people who lived here, but I guess it’s more fair.”
Another stabilized tenant of 30 years, retired court employee Carmen Souffrante, said while she didn’t need to apply, she checked out the lottery website earlier in the day and saw that it was malfunctioning. She had looked into the lottery to pass on information to her friends at the courthouse from when she worked there as a Spanish language interpreter.
“Some people are going to get in, some are not,” Souffrante said, but added that she was still encouraging others to try. “If you have a job and you want to live in Manhattan, why not? It’s a wonderful place. The security, the stability. You can feel like you’re living in a college campus, but other than that, it’s wonderful. It’s great that they’re giving someone else the opportunity to live here without charging an arm and a leg.”
Another resident, who works in retail banking and wanted to remain anonymous, said he wasn’t sure he’d meet the income requirements due to some discretionary pay he’d earned, but would look into it, saying he could use a break like anyone else.
A resident for two a half years, first as a sub-letter, then a tenant of record in a different apartment, he said he had tried to move into the place he had sub-let when the tenant of record was moving. However, the rent ended up going up significantly due to a pressurized wall his landlord, the former tenant had installed. The hike went from “the mid-threes to over $5,400,” the resident said. So he moved to a different apartment, a two-bedroom converted to a three-bedroom, splitting the rent there with two roommates. “Would I love (the rent) to be lower? Yes,” said the resident, although he said he still preferred the 14th Street side of Stuy Town to the East Village, explaining that while it felt like being in the East Village, the apartments were nicer than what the neighborhood to the south had to offer.
“Long story short, I think it’s a great thing that they’re offering a lower rate,” he said of the affordability program. “I might give it a shot.”
Like many tenants though, his biggest concern about the community was students packing into apartments. As someone who once worked at a neighborhood bank, he recalled students opening accounts with $100, only to later deposit huge amounts like $80,000 at once. They would explain, “My mom is giving me money to help with school,” the man recalled, adding that he believes that’s a big reason the rents keep climbing. “That’s one of things egging Stuy Town on,” he said. “The people who can pay are here.”
Also interested in the lottery was a resident of 25 years in a stabilized apartment, who asked that only her first name, Louise, be published. The reason for being willing to give up her current digs for a new one, even if it’s more expensive, she explained, was more space.
“I’m stabilized and we have a two-bedroom with two children, a boy and a girl,” Louise said. “A three-bedroom would be our dream.”
But, she quickly added, “We’re grateful for what we have.”