By Brian J Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Clarkson Square is two gigantic towers, 430 feet high, designed for 1,586 residential units, filling the entire block from Houston to Clarkson Streets and Washington to West Streets.
Critically needed permanently affordable housing, with flexible units for senior citizens, will provide filtered fresh air, biodynamic lighting, and access to public and private garden terraces (and the Hudson River Park across the street, as well). Plans by COOKFOX Architects for Atlas Capital Group and Westbrook Partners to develop the mixed-use complex at the former St. John’s Terminal site, ca. 1933, were first approved in 2016.
Up to 30 percent of the units—475 apartments—are reportedly to be rented at below-market rates through the city housing lottery.
The New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) launched a new website in July, 2020 to make the affordable housing lottery application process more user-friendly at nyc.gov/housingconnect.
In addition to new affordable rentals, the Housing Connect website will also host homeownership opportunities and re-rentals of affordable homes that were accessible via the lottery previously. It’s called a lottery for a good reason: the chances of “winning” are remote, so you might have to “play” for years before you get something out of it. But it costs nothing to try.
The Clarkson Square apartment towers have promised affordable and senior housing units, but won’t be listed in the lottery until they are built, just as other housing developments on the lower west side of Manhattan may add to the affordable housing stock—but we’ll have to wait until those are built too.
This writer entered the website with hypothetical searches, one for each of the five income categories, from 0 percent AMI, up to 165 percent AMI. The search left everything as “Any” for neighborhoods, rent range, and family size, to get the most options. These search results were generally uniform, with three to five buildings in Brooklyn, one or two in the Bronx, and from zero to six in Queens; none were in Manhattan. But after entering my email address at the site, I received notice of two buildings in Inwood that have 18 units available for first time condo/coop buyers only, and a building in Harlem with 12 units.
HPD and HDC want to create affordable housing opportunities for many household income levels and sizes. This website is promoted for the public to view open waiting list lotteries and the current waiting lists for Mitchell-Lama rentals and co-ops.
The city council approved Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) in 2016, which provided formulas for affordable unit percentages as part of new developments. (See NYC Planning website under Initiatives.) It does allow the affordable units to be built “off-site” or in a different borough, but all MIH is permanent.
Housing is considered “affordable” if it costs about one-third or less of what the people living there earn annually, also known as Area Median Income (AMI). The median income for all cities is defined each year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). A chart of NYC AMI for various family sizes, and a chart of NYC monthly rents, are displayed at the website. For instance, the 2020 AMI for the New York City region for a three-person family at 100 percent AMI is $102,400.
You need to create a new account at the site in order to apply for affordable housing. If you have little or no income, you may qualify if you have a voucher that can cover your rent. The agencies can help you calculate your income accurately and help you determine up front what you’re eligible for. They also provide some general hints and precautions for preparation.
If you have a disability, are a senior, or are living in a borough or community board district where there’s affordable housing, you may be given a preference for some affordable units.
The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is responsible for the city’s public housing and has a Section 8 voucher program; that is an entirely separate application process.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is a journalist who writes about architecture.