How to Get an Apartment in New York with Low Income

Ruth Shin

Ruth Shin

RENT

Streets in Brooklyn, New York

With rent prices climbing higher and higher each year, and with the increasing number of luxury developments going up, it may seem like an impossible task to find an apartment or any level of housing with limited funds or low-paying wages. However, don’t despair. There are still options for someone in that position. If you think about it, luxury developments and condos, while seemingly numerous only actually make up a very small percentage of the New York City housing market.

Low Income and Affordable Housing

In the face of decreasing affordable housing, New York City has tried very hard to incentivize and plan for developers to create more affordable housing. These can be affordable housing developments, affordable housing units in a new development or rent stabilized buildings. 

Lottery Apartments

All affordable housing units are income restricted. Each development will have their own guidelines which may vary depending on the legal rent of their standard units, so the income requirements may vary dramatically from building to building. Affordable housing units are generally reserved for low to middle-income families. They will not be realistic for someone at or below the poverty line. If you qualify and fall within the income guidelines, you’ll need to apply for the lottery. Generally, it’s very competitive, but you will need to provide income documentation as well. It can take up to years to be placed in one of these affordable units, so you’ll need a backup plan just in case you are not one of the lucky few to land an apartment right away.

Mitchell-Lama Apartments

Whole housing developments with an entirety of affordable units, both rentals and coops are those under the Mitchell-Lama program, supervised by the city of New York. There is normally a waitlist for these units and they also operate under a lottery system. You can also apply for lottery units in luxury developments that reserved income-restricted units.

Rent-stabilized Apartments

Rent-stabilized units are generally below market value. Rent renewals usually only go up incrementally and what is determined by the city each year. Rents can be destabilized once they go past a certain rent price, the tax abatement program has come to its conclusion, or if the unit is converted to a coop or a condo. However, the landlord will have to follow the proper procedures in order to destabilize any unit.

Neighborhoods with Affordable Rent

While New York City is one of the most expensive cities to live in the world, there are still surprisingly low-rent units, even right in Manhattan! If you receive a low income, you’ll need to think realistically of where you can live. Generally, the farther you live from the epicenter of activity, you’ll find more affordable prices. 

Research neighborhoods in each borough for the lowest rent prices and comparisons between neighborhoods. Best bets for Manhattan are neighborhoods like Inwood and Washington Heights. You might still find a good bargain in parts of  East Harlem as well. Brooklyn offers areas like Bushwick, Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, Flatbush, and Bay Ridge for affordable rental units. While there are high-priced apartments in these neighborhoods, you can still find plenty of deals. Sunnyside, Jackson Heights, and Maspeth might be good choices for someone on a tight budget but doesn’t want to be too far from the city. There are great apartments for great prices all around the Bronx and also parts of Staten Island, so definitely include them in your search.

How Roommates Can Help You

Normally, the more bedrooms an apartment has the better the price point per room, so if you have a low income that doesn’t reflect well for a full apartment, going in together with a roommate or roommates will help. If you earn 35k a year, you’d qualify for a rent of $875 per month (with fair to good credit), still very workable for a shared apartment situation for 2 or more roommates, granted that they will be paying the same. You can also always find roommates that earn more and can pay more. Your income should be considered by the landlord collectively, so this is another way that roommates can boost your application.

Other Strategies

Public Housing

It may come as surprising news, but it’s not hard to qualify for public housing. The guidelines have leeway and you do not need to be at the poverty line in order to qualify for NYCHA housing. As the current NYC income requirements go for a single person, you need to earn about 51k or less per year. This would mean a good deal of NYC residents would be able to qualify.

Federal Programs

For those earning less than 20k a year, you might also be looking at Section 8 vouchers as an option. It is true that some landlords are not crazy about the idea of accepting vouchers. By law, they are not allowed to discriminate against someone with a voucher and must give equal consideration, but there is no law requiring them to accept such an applicant. There are, however, still a considerable quantity of landlords participating in the program. You should contact the NYC Housing Authority for more information.  If a landlord sees that you have great credit, a great rental history and are earning some income, this might put you in the best light for consideration.

Sublets

You can always try to find a short or long-term sublet. The requirements or criteria will really depend on the individual who is subletting the unit, which is not the landlord. This means you might be able to talk to them one-on-one. Normally, their goal is to find someone who can start the sublease at the date of your choosing and someone who is going to be paying on time. It might be a good alternative to having roommates.

Credit and Job Issues

If you're faced with joblessness, there are helpful strategies besides what's listed here to help you out. You can read more here on different ways of obtaining housing besides low-income lotteries and waitlists if you are jobless. You can also read up on options for bad credit and how to repairyour credit score.

Search for your next home based on a credit score.

Search