“Making it” in New York City as a musician can be very challenging. Between practicing, auditioning, working, and trying to earn enough money to pay your bills, it is often near impossible. For many, a large portion of income must go toward rent — and with rents increasing each year, affordable housing seems more and more difficult to secure.
As frustrating as all of this may be, affordable housing options do exist in New York City. These options include Section 8, Mitchell-Lama, and 80-20 housing. Currently, Section 8 housing is especially difficult to obtain, and the future of Mitchell-Lama housing is still up in the air. At this time, your best option is 80-20 housing.
In order for a building to be classified as 80-20, 20 percent of the units must be designated for low-income individuals and families, while the remaining 80 percent of the units in the building are rented at market value. The city established 80-20 housing in the mid-1980’s, when it began offering tax break incentives to real estate developers on the condition they erect 80-20 buildings.
The appeal of reduced taxes has resulted in the frequent construction, throughout all five boroughs, of 80-20 housing projects. These subsidized units are in high demand and obtaining 80-20 housing is typically a lengthy process. With this in mind, here are some tips that will help you better your chances.
The first step in the process is to read the papers, specifically the Daily News, the New York Times, and the Amsterdam News on Thursdays. Included in these papers are announcements of new building projects; read each announcement carefully.
When you locate a building that appeals to you, and for which you qualify, immediately send a postcard with your full name and address, requesting an application. If your postcard is one of the first 4,000 received, an application will be mailed to you, along with a deadline by which you must have your completed application returned.
When the deadline is reached, applications will be drawn at random and reviewed. If your application is chosen, and you are a qualified applicant, you will be contacted for an interview. If selected, your interview appointment will be mailed to you.
In addition to the date and time of your interview, you will also be told what documents you will be required to bring to your appointment. These documents usually include:
- Copies of identification, such as passport or birth certificate
- Copies of photo identification
- Copies of all household members’ social security cards
- Copies of first and last page of your original lease and current renewal application
- Copies of proof of rent payments for the last six months
- Copies of all household taxes and W-2 forms for the last five years
- Copies of the last four pay stubs for all employed household members
- Correct mailing address and phone numbers of all employers
- Current bank statements and all other sources of income
Your credit report is usually very important, but just as important, and perhaps even more so, is your rent payment history. An excellent history of paying rent on time has been known to outweigh a poor credit rating.
Since many of the steps in this process are out of your control, the best thing you can do is be as prepared as possible in anticipation of an interview request. Too often people are contacted for interviews and race to gather the required documents before their appointment, only to find that they are unable to do so. In these cases, the individuals were disqualified. To avoid this happening to you, start collecting the above-mentioned documents now, rather than waiting until you receive your interview appointment.
Identifying yourself as an artist is a good thing. The people reviewing your application are typically artist-friendly and understand multiple W-2’s and 1099’s.
Even if you fall outside the income requirements, you should still apply. You never know what your situation will be like should you be selected for an interview.
Many of the tips included in this article were obtained from information on affordable housing from the Actors’ Fund. Each month, the Actors’ Fund holds free housing seminars. For the date and location of the next seminar, contact the Actors’ Fund at (212) 221-7300. You can also contact the MAP office at (212) 397-4802.
Matt Kudish is the social work intern at the Musicians’ Assistance Program.