Understanding the NYC Apartment Lottery – An 80/20 Program

Thinking of getting a place in New York City? People might call you crazy. Snagging a comfortable yet affordable apartment in the Big Apple is harder than winning the lottery. Or is it? Did you know there’s an entire NYC apartment lottery? 


John Oliver has a bit on his show, Last Week Tonight, about how unbelievably difficult it is to win the lottery (the Mega Millions that is). And we have to say, we knew it was unlikely to win Mega Millions, but we didn’t know that the real chances of winning were 1-in-176 million (or basically the odds of you getting eaten by a shark and struck by lightning simultaneously).


Let’s just say it’s not very likely.


Luckily, there are other (more reasonable, and less infuriating) lotteries that you can enter. Lotteries such as an NYC apartment lottery offer applicants the chance to save several thousands of dollars a year in rent by simply filling out an application and moving through the process. Here’s how it works.


What is the New York City apartment lottery?

Unlike more traditional lotteries, where the money you spend on lottery tickets essentially fuels the jackpot, an NYC apartment lottery is subsidized by the government. Developers set aside 20% of the available units in the building for low to middle income renters.

Sky Residences apartment available in the nyc apartment lottery

That’s not to say that those apartment units are of lower quality then the rest of the units in the building (though we can’t guarantee amenities like those at Sky or similar luxury buildings). But you still may have access to a doorman, laundry, or a gym, which might seem too good to be true for the price you will be paying.


The reason they’re so affordable is because the government covers the difference in rent. So, if the apartment is $1200 (unsubsidized) then your subsidized payment may end up being around $600 (theoretically).


Qualifications you need to enter an NYC apartment lottery

To qualify, and win an NYC apartment lottery, you will need to meet the following qualifications.


  • You must be at least 18 years old
  • Earn less than $30,100 as an individual
  • Or $42,950 as a family of four
  • Other requirements that a developer may require (such as a background check)


How to apply for a New York City apartment lottery

If you meet the requirements, it’s time to start applying. Here’s how to go about it.


  1. Start researching potential buildings. You can start online (try NYC Housing Connect) or just take a walk around your target neighborhood. Developers are required to post application information at any building with a lottery program. They’re also required to advertise in at least three publications, so check the newspaper. If you need help, visit your local library for assistance and more information.
  2. Fill out those applications. This is a time-consuming process, there’s no doubt about that. Because you should apply to as many lotteries as you can (just like buying more Mega Millions tickets will give you better odds at winning a prize), you’re going to be buried under a small mountain of paperwork. The good news is that it’s free to submit applications (the only fee you might incur is a credit check fee, but this is further down the line in the process).
  3. Wait patiently. Most developers don’t start looking at applications until a few weeks after the lottery deadline. The review process is random (applications aren’t reviewed in the order they were received). Those that don’t qualify are discarded while those that do are logged and filed. If your application makes the cut, you’ll receive a call for an interview.
  4. Nail the interview. If you’re lucky enough to make it to the interview stage, you’ve already made it further than most. Treat this as a job interview. Dress up, show up early, and be prepared. You’ll need to bring quite a bit of paper work with you, like tax returns, pay stubs, and proper identification. At this point, a credit check might be administered as well. If your credit isn’t up to par, start working on it now.
  5. Hold your breath. You’ve done everything you can do. Now you have to wait and see what the outcome of your efforts will be. If your interview went well, someone might be sent to conduct a home check. This is usually painless and simply conducted to confirm your current living situation. It can take several months for final decisions to be made but if you’re lucky, you’ll have taken a substantial step towards getting a place in New York City.


You won! Now what?

Congrats! It’s time for your celebratory dance (we’ll wait). Now, here’s what you need to focus on after winning a New York City apartment lottery.


  • Sign the lease. But only after you read the fine print, ask questions, and make sure you’re completely comfortable before signing.
  • Purchase renters insurance. As a renter, you’ll want to make sure that your items are always protected. Remember that the building’s insurance policy will not cover your items in the event of a fire or a burglary.
  • Start packing. Schedule movers if you need them and be as organized as possible. If you’re handling the move alone, check out this blog on moving in NYC.
  • Schedule utility services. This includes television services and internet. Make sure everything is in your name, including electricity and other applicable services.
  • Update your address. Change your address with your work, bank, credit cards, and any other company you regularly receive mail from. You’ll also want to change your address with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • Move in and be awesome. As a winner of an apartment lottery, you’ll have to submit yearly paperwork as required by the developer. But otherwise, you’re good to go!


Smart tips


  • If you can, apply to lotteries in your neighborhood. Developers tend to prefer locals.
  • Keep an eye out for updates. Despite the technological era we live in, email is not used to notify participants of accepted applications. Check your mail regularly.
  • Get prepared as soon as possible. This means polishing up your credit score (if needed) and gathering important paperwork. If you’re not sure if you need a certain document, get it anyway.
  • Keep your cool. There’s no secret formula to winning the NYC apartment lottery. It’s a tiring and frustrating experience to say the least. Remain persistent and optimistic.
  • Know your rights. If you’ve been denied for a lottery but know that you meet the qualifications, don’t be afraid to appeal.


If you’re looking for a place in New York City, we hope you consider trying your luck with an apartment lottery. Now’s a great time to start working on that first application. After all, while you might not win the NY apartment lottery tonight, we can guarantee you’ll never win if you don’t at least try.


More articles:

New York Co-Op Insurance FAQ

You know you need insurance; whether you’re a co-op or condo owner, or just a renter, figuring it out year to year, if you’re living in NYC or New Jersey…

Return to blog