standard Affordable Housing’s Missing Link: Residents Knowing How to Apply

Affordable Housing Education Sessions Presser

Melissa Burch, of Forest City Ratner, one of the development companies assisting with educating residents on how to apply for affordable housing (Photo by Matthew Taub)

Amidst the borough’s housing crisis, proposed solutions have often left out an important element: making sure eligible residents know how to apply for newly-constructed affordable units, and that they are doing so correctly.

Trivialities such as white out on an application can get it dismissed. Two estranged partners both claiming their child as a dependent can disqualify them both. An erroneous poor credit score can spell certain doom. Meanwhile, some residents might not even know how to apply for housing, or what the eligibility requirements are.

A new initiative hopes to alleviate these problems. On Tuesday at Borough Hall, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, together with the Borough President and a host of elected officials and affordable housing advocates unveiled plans for a series of information and educational workshops for residents to improve access to over 1,000 affordable housing units that will become available in the borough over the next few years.

“This issue is rarely discussed, but increasingly a problem,” said Tucker Reed of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “Getting these new affordable housing units online is not enough. Eligible residents are too frequently disqualified due to minor administrative errors. Incredibly, and as a result, developers don’t even fill the ranks of the affordable housing units they’ve set aside.”

The partnering community organizations and developers hope their new initiative will expedite the application process for lower-income families, so that they will be better positioned in housing lotteries. Organizing partners also intend on using the program to inform applicants on issues of managing credit, putting together relevant identification documents and following procedures to make timely rent payments in order to better qualify for housing lotteries.

“It’s harvest time for the Borough of Brooklyn, where many live and want to stay and play,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “But zoning changes have created a shadow over many everyday Brooklynites. Instead, they should be living in the shine of new construction.”

The Borough President went on to add how financial literacy is a crucial component for correctly applying for affordable housing units, and that correcting credit scores not only effected housing affordability, but employment opportunities as well.

“I want families to be ready when it’s time to go through what is a very fair lottery system,” Adams said. “Everyone should be on the same page, reading from the same playbook, to ensure we maximize affordable housing.”

City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo was excited by the upcoming educational workshops, which, she said, grew out of an idea on the campaign trail.

“Residents wanted to know how they can participate in affordable housing coming to New York,” Cumbo said. “This is so that Brooklynites can stay in Brooklyn and benefit from its growth and prosperity.”

Rob Solano, Executive Director of Churches United For Fair Housing (CUFFH), emphasized how everyone from developers to community activists were united in the same mission.

“We’re all joining together for a common good,” Solano said. “Whether you’re Brooklyn bred, or you’ve been here for just five years, or ten years, you’re the ones who made Brooklyn what it is, and made other people want to come here.”

Solano explained how low-income residents are being pushed out of housing, sleeping on couches and the floors of relatives, adding an incredible burden to households.

“These workshops will ensure that they can stay, and not be denied because of a technicality,” Solano added.

Melissa Burch, of Forest City Ratner, reminded the audience how the developer was the first to bring affordable units in state-financed new construction to to Brooklyn, with 80 Dekalb Avenue. The 365-unit property provided some 73 affordable units when it went to market in 2009.

“That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what we have for Atlantic Yards,” Burch said. “We have 2,250 units set aside for low, moderate and middle income families.” She mentioned Tower B2, which will be the world’s tallest and largest modular building, as an example–of 363 units, a full fifty percent, or 181 apartments, are being set aside for affordable housing. And a recent leasing agreement with partner Greenland USA will speed up construction, Burch said.

During a Q&A session, the coalition conceded that no set-aside plans had been enacted for senior citizen housing, but on a more positive note, none of the new construction would have a “poor door” entrance for affordable housing residents.

The first educational workshop for residents begins on Thursday, July 31st, at Brown Memorial Baptist Church. More can be learned at the Churches United For Fair Housing’s web site, www.cuffh.org.