February 6, 2023

Housing Disconnect: Bronx Residents Want Affordable Housing Opportunities Right Away – AHORA!


Don’t say it’s affordable housing for low income – That is not true! That is bogus. Ok. It is bogus. You know how many years I have been applying, and I always get turned down because of my income. My income is too low. Ok, then why do you call it affordable housing, for who? It doesn’t make any sense. – Aida

“I’ve wondered many times, how are they making so many buildings everywhere, and why can’t you find housing? My God, what is going on? You see the construction and the empty buildings and still you struggle to find a place to live.” – Milady

UNHP is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2023- what better time to return to our community-based roots and work with neighborhood residents to address our shared frustrations with the process of applying for, and getting an apartment through NYC Housing Connect? UNHP’s roots are embedded in a Bronx community organizing effort that asserts that if the people who are directly affected by an issue have input in its resolution, the more likely it is that real answers will be found. Working with the people who are so deeply affected by the affordable housing crisis is essential if we are going to address this issue. Bronx AHORA renews our commitment to lifting the voices of Bronx residents who are navigating the challenges of this system amid an urgent need for decent, affordable, and safe housing for themselves and their families.

Housing Connect, New York City’s online affordable housing lottery, is meant to give equal access to individuals among the five boroughs seeking affordable, quality rental apartments constructed in part with public funds. The direct service arm of UNHP, the Northwest Bronx Resource Center (NWBRC) provides a wide range of housing and financial employment assistance, and much of our work in the past 6 years is related to the affordable housing lottery. UNHP uses Housing Connect daily to connect residents to new developments and available apartments, assisting thousands of Bronx tenants in need of affordable housing to apply to the Housing Connect lottery. The demand for this service has grown significantly over the years, as has UNHP’s frustration with the program. Very few people we help to apply are selected for units, many affordable housing seekers are not eligible for existing lotteries because their household incomes are too low, and the technical components of an online system are too difficult for many Bronx residents to fully manage. In response to these frustrations, UNHP has been reaching out to our Housing Connect users who want to share their stories and address the problems with finding housing that is affordable for low-income families like themselves.

In the spring and summer of 2022, UNHP followed up with 70 Northwest Bronx Resource Center program users who responded to a survey about their experiences with Housing Connect. UNHP brought together some of these frustrated Bronx housing seekers via Zoom to discuss the challenges of searching for affordable housing and using the Housing Connect platform. The group – called Bronx AHORA (Affordable Housing Opportunities Right Away) – met several times in English and Spanish and was able to meet with Bronx Council member and Housing Chair Pierina Sanchez. Members shared their desperation for an affordable apartment and their frustration with navigating the online system, seeking help, and continually applying for additional lotteries. The group is seeking more deeply affordable units in newly constructed buildings that better reflect neighborhood incomes, free widely-available assistance with Housing Connect through local libraries, and more ease and transparency in the online Housing Connect process from application to eligibility interviews to selection.

On June 21st, Bronx Ahora members and UNHP staff met with Bronx Councilwoman and Council Housing Chair, Pierina Sanchez and her staff. Bronx housing seekers shared their experiences with the Housing Connect system and their frustrating search for decent and affordable rental housing. UNHP staff our own difficult experiences assisting Bronx residents with Housing Connect as well as the obstacles to secure tenants using the system to rent apartments. CM Sanchez invited members to submit testimony to the Council and agreed to work with the group to address the issues of the lack of deeply affordable units and the complexity of the process.

The housing seekers that are part of Bronx AHORA are in the lottery for a variety of reasons: they are seniors or disabled and live in a walk-up apartment, they are paying more than they can afford for rent, they rent rooms in other people’s apartments, or they live in deteriorated apartments that are not safe. The majority of people that UNHP works with to apply for apartments on Housing Connect want to remain in the Bronx to be near their families, their churches, and trusted medical providers. They want to continue to be part of a community they know and enjoy. All of these individuals have turned to Housing Connect in hope of finding safer, more reasonable, and better-quality housing. Unfortunately, none have had luck finding an apartment through the lottery thus far. Bronx AHORA members – like other residents in community boards 5, 6, and 7 – have median household incomes of around $35,000, but many of the Bronx buildings on Housing Connect require a much higher level of income. Most have been working for many years, yet their income does not qualify them for a majority of the listed lotteries. The largest complaint regarding the apartments available on the Housing Connect portal is the high-income levels for eligibility. Every Bronx AHORA member is flummoxed that the lottery is called the affordable housing lottery while the qualifying incomes and rents are so far out of reach.

Below are some of the stories of the AHORA members and how their struggles are part of a larger affordable housing reality in the Bronx and NYC. It is important to note here – that for some housing seekers if the rental buildings that they live in now were maintained in the manner legally required they would not be searching for a new unit; effective code enforcement is an affordable housing tool. Safety in the neighborhood and in the building is also a driver of demand – some safety issues like broken doors and illegal tenants can be addressed by the owners and others are more of community safety issues. Community safety, building conditions, and preservation alongside building for low-income families and individuals are needed in tandem to address this escalating affordability crisis. New Housing Connect units for lower-income renters are scarce and competition is fierce, many applicants are stuck living in deteriorated multifamily buildings, and renting a single room is sometimes the only affordable option available.

Hard Working Mom Needs Space for Her and Her Fourth-Grader Son

Ms. H. emigrated from West Africa more than 10 years ago and has lived in the Bronx ever since. She lives in the Fordham area and loves the easy access to transportation and schools as well as the local stores and shopping. As a home health aide, she works hard to provide for herself and her son. Ms. H likes her job and the opportunities here in the US, but she and her son need their own apartment. “I am happy here but the problem is the house. … I live on the fifth floor. … I stay in one bedroom with my son. It’s not easy.” She has been searching for a suitable apartment for her family since 2017, working with UNHP and applying for apartments on Housing Connect. She has applied for about 17 lotteries on the online platform. Currently, she rents one room in a shared apartment that houses 2 other families.

Renting a room in another tenant’s apartment is a common way that people in the Bronx keep a roof over their heads – unaffordable rents, and not enough available units drive families to double up and others to rent rooms. In terms of overcrowding, ACS data shows that the severe overcrowding rate (more than 1.5 people per room) has been growing across all boroughs since 2005. The Bronx has the highest severe overcrowding rate with 5.7% of apartments identified as overcrowded. The Fordham neighborhood where Ms. H lives has a severe overcrowding rate of 7.44%. Data on renting rooms is harder to find – but UNHP works with many neighborhood residents who are not on the lease and rent rooms for their housing – it is both a strategy to stay housed and for those on the lease to make extra income.

For Ms. H, finding an apartment is everything: “That would help my happiness because it’s not easy. Whenever you want a place to rent, it’s so high. You have to pay the bills, the food… I don’t get food stamps. It’s not easy. Everything is expensive, clothes, and taking care of my son. The bills are so high, it’s hard to do everything by yourself.”

Despite her persistence and work ethic, an apartment of her own remains unattainable. She sees many buildings on Housing Connect that she does not qualify for with an income in the $30K range. And for the ones she does qualify for, she feels the rents are very high. “They say low income, right? That means they help people to pay less? Right? But then – it’s really expensive… They’re not looking for low income, it’s still high. It’s too much, you know? They’re still looking for too much income.” But Ms. H has not given up hope as she continues to search for affordable living opportunities to give her son more space and privacy as he grows up. After our interview, Ms. H made an appointment to meet with UNHP and get some help applying for more buildings. “Maybe one day my time is gonna come. Yeah maybe.”

UNHP has scaled back our Housing Connect assistance due to capacity issues and rising demand, but we continue to work with Northwest Bronx Resource Center program users. Yadhira provides assistance with the online affordable housing lottery known as Housing Connect.

Mother and Daughter Rely on Prayers and Lots of Applications to Find Housing Relief

For the mother-daughter team Aida and Ms. Torres, the search for affordable housing has been defined by a mix of prayer and persistence. Aida is now living in a beautiful affordable senior citizen complex in Yonkers as of last October when this interview took place – which is great news – but that result came after countless applications for affordable housing, some of which were submitted with the help of UNHP. The daughter of this team is still looking to leave the NYCHA apartment where she grew up for something that is both safe and affordable.

Born in Puerto Rico, Aida (60) came to the Bronx with her family when she was very young. Mom of four girls and one boy (“I wanted that boy and the boy came almost at the end!”), Aida is very proud of all her successful and happy adult children and was very strict about her children’s safety while they were growing up – insisting that they escort each other home from school and then lock the door and stay in while she worked as a home health aide. Her daughter, Ms. Torres (34), remains in the family apartment located in the public (NYCHA) housing project in the Claremont section of the South Bronx. Aida and Ms. Torres agree that their four-bedroom NYCHA apartment is “beautiful… 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and the rooms are huge.” Thanks to Section 8, the rent was affordable too – however, the big problem was safety. Both Aida and her daughter, Ms. Torres, describe a sort of war zone around the building with fights between rival gangs – “We always used… to look out the window and call 911. You see girls, boys fighting, taking out knives. And — no, no, no, no…I always wanted to leave there. And I was scared for my kids when they left… Especially my son when he started to work, I would worry worry worry.”

Both Aida and Ms. Torres’ experiences with Housing Connect were abysmal. They both applied to many Housing Connect properties only to pay for credit checks and then be denied. Both Aida and Ms. Torres believe that they were denied because they are low-income – even though the apartment advertisements indicated that they qualified. One time Aida was told she was approved and they just needed a background check – only to be told weeks later that the apartment was given to someone else. Aida and Ms. Torres worked with UNHP to apply for Housing Connect lotteries and applied to other buildings on their own. 11 years ago, Aida applied for an apartment through the Yonkers Municipal Housing Authority, and in March of 2022, she received a call from an affordable housing development in Yonkers for low-income seniors and people with mobility disabilities funded through the HUD 202 program. Aida recalls that, after all that waiting, “I came to the interview… I was down and out. I say I don’t know what I’m going through this for. They’re not gonna give me anything. It’s just gonna be the same thing. The lady comes, she calls me, she said, when can you come down to see the unit? I said, what?… I couldn’t sleep I was so excited. I said [to my daughter], God heard me… I got a unit. I got a unit. I got a unit!”

The good news is that Aida has a beautiful apartment in a safe neighborhood: “And you know what’s the best part about it? You see nothing, that’s it. It’s like this all the time. You see quietness. It’s like this all the time. All the time.”

Ms. Torres still remains in search of an apartment that is both affordable AND safe. She remains at the NYCHA apartment and has requested a transfer to a smaller unit in a different building – but has yet to get a response from NYCHA. (See this article about NYCHA vacancies) It will continue to be difficult for Ms. Torres to find an affordable apartment; because she is young, on disability, and doesn’t qualify for senior housing, her subsidy is attached to her NYCHA apartment, and the apartments for people with non-physical disabilities are few. Despite significant learning disabilities and health issues, Ms. Torres graduated from a career development school when she was 20 and went on to work in personal services and retail until her health declined. Ms. Torres is also a beneficiary of her mother’s prayers. Glaucoma and other eye issues resulted in 5 eye surgeries, and Ms. Torres went completely blind. While she was hospitalized, Ms. Torres went into a coma – and Aida prayed fervently for her daughter in the middle of the street in front of the hospital. Not only did Ms. Torres survive but much of her eyesight has been restored.

Aida’s faith and prayers have been the anchor in her life. “This is the why the faith I have in God, nobody’s going to take that away from me, nobody. Because every time that I ask… for God’s help, I always get what I ask for. And, this is – I’m not making it up. This is my daughter here. She’s a testimony. Ok. She’s a testimony. Everything that I ask God, and I ask for faith, and I say to myself, sooner or later God is gonna come to me. Through me, he’s gonna give me what I ask. Always, always. Look, I got the apartment.” Now Aida’s prayers go to Ms. Torres for a safe affordable apartment of her own.

Veteran Housing Seeker Struggles in Noxious Environment

Ms. Garcia, an air force veteran and 20-year resident of the Bronx, has been looking for an apartment for 3 years. Although she appreciates being close to a Veteran’s hospital which has been convenient for treating her chronic illness and disability, the deterioration of her walls from water damage and the 24-hour loitering around her building has forced her to find a new place. The condition of her building exacerbates her growing health issues, she explains: “There’s a water situation… The whole [part of my ceiling] will fall down, and they don’t find [anything]. They don’t have professional people looking at it. .. They scrape and paint, and I’m like, ‘hello, I’m on oxygen, you cannot be here.’ And they’re like ‘well go in that other room over there.’ There’s not even a/c in there, what do you want me to do?… I think I’m gonna die either of my illness or the environment is gonna kill me.” Ms. Garcia isn’t the only one struggling with conditions in her building; according to publicly available data on HPD violations, there have been close to 40 complaints about the lack of heat and/or hot water in the building over the last four months of the heating season.

Like many, Ms. Garcia has turned to Housing Connect to find a new, suitable apartment as she continues to battle her condition. However, using Housing Connect to further her search has been a difficult process. Mostly, she doubts the true affordability of the units being built in the Bronx: “But when you look at the statistics, when you look at the numbers, there are not so many people from low-income [households].” Mrs. Garcia’s experience corroborates our own findings at UNHP; the housing available on the housing portal for NYC is just not affordable enough, and when units are posted for households earning less than $40,000 the demand is high and the units few.

Both of the above listings appear on the NYC Housing Connect portal as “affordable” the one on the left is connected with rental subsidies and housing with no income up to $60,000 can apply. The building on the right offers “affordable” 1- 3 bedroom units to those with incomes ranging from $69,000 to $156,000- members of Bronx AHORA would argue that is NOT affordable housing!

Applying to Housing Connect lotteries also requires technological savvy. Even if there were affordable apartments on the portal, Ms. Garcia explains that the confusing nature of the website was another obstacle she had to overcome. She started her search during the pandemic, which meant that UNHP assisted in her Housing Connect enrollment in a remote capacity. As all of us know, the complications of Zoom and remote calls are difficult enough as it is, and it was especially hard for Mrs. Garcia who remembers the process of creating her account: “Oh forget it. That was like a whole year it took just for me to get registered.” Because of the complexity and technological knowledge needed to navigate Housing Connect, Mrs. Garcia wishes the city government would provide more support. She advocates for increased local assistance at an accessible place like the NYC public library.


Yet Ms. Garcia not only worries for herself but for the state of New York City amidst this affordable housing crisis and its possible effects on mental health. “This affects people in different ways. We’re already in a mental health crisis that’s really gonna come back to bite us.” She expresses her wish to fight for reasonable housing initiatives and hopes that her story can help foster that change.

“Poor People Don’t Have Many Choices”: Local Resident Rents a Room Until She Finds a Better Option

Milady has made her home in the Bronx for 31 years and currently works as a saleswoman in a local cashier’s warehouse. Previously, she has worked selling fruit on the street, driving cabs, and selling other inventory from her home. Her current living situation is unstable, as she pays $200 a week for a room in an already crowded house, making it difficult for her to be comfortable. She says, “It’s a little bit like I was used to living alone after my daughter was gone for so many years. It is a little difficult for me, because when I get up, I put the mass on, but it can bother the other people, sometimes I forget, and I sing and walk with my coffee. I understand that there are people who want to sleep, it’s a person’s way of finding their space. I am very grateful to people, but I need my space.”

Milady recognizes that many other people are in similar or worse situations than her due to a lack of income. She explained, “It’s not a choice, poor people don’t have much choice. How can you decide if you can live here, or live there? Each person lives depending on their situation, and the amount of money coming in, you know what I mean? I’m not very happy but what can I do? I don’t have a choice.” Milady is hyper-cognizant of the severe lack of housing options for low-income individuals like herself. “I’ve wondered many times, how are they making so many buildings everywhere, and why can’t you find housing? My God, what is going on? You see the construction and the empty buildings and still you struggle to find a place to live.”- “Oh, yo me he preguntado muchas veces, como están haciendo tantos edificios en todas partes, y porque no se encuentra una vivienda? Dios mio que esta pasando. Uno ve las construcciones y los edificios vacíos. (Y aun así) uno le da lucha para encontrar un sitio para vivir.”

Milady has worked closely with UNHP staff to apply for 27 open lotteries on Housing Connect over the last 3 years. Despite her persistence, she has found the technology-intensive application and selection process to be confusing and has missed out on a placement as a result. She recalls, “I lost an opportunity for an apartment because I didn’t open an email. When I saw the email, it’s been 2-3 months, and what did I know?” Based on experiences like these, Milady and other members of Bronx AHORA feel that the online process disadvantages older and less tech-savvy residents and that applicants should be contacted by mail or by phone in addition to email. Milady remains hopeful about her chances, but also urges, ”We need more apartments, please, so we don’t have to wait so long to get housing.” translated from Spanish

Retired Health Worker Experiences Distress as Building Owner Cashes Out

The rent for Jay’s studio apartment in the Bronx is $1490 a month, yet he went without heat for 4 days in the middle of winter. Given that Jay’s landlord is Chestnut Holdings, this is unfortunately not surprising; recent reporting shows that Chestnut maintains inconsistent heat. This is not all that Chestnut Holdings is known for. The notorious landlord, with a portfolio of at least 8,500 rental units, most of which are in the Bronx, has been the subject of a range of safety and discrimination lawsuits by the NY attorney general over the past few years. They are also frequently among NYC’s Top 20 Worst Evictors by rate of eviction filings. In fact, according to available data, over one-quarter of the 57 tenants in Jay’s building have received an eviction filing since the start of the Pandemic in March 2020.

As Chestnut tenants deal with exorbitant rents, substandard conditions, and the instability of always having a potential eviction case over their heads, Chestnut has profited handsomely by leveraging the rising asset values of their properties. In the case of Jay’s building, for instance, Chestnut has taken on over $6.7 million in financing though they purchased the property for a fraction of that in 2022. As UNHP has shown in other places, this debt translates into a cash payout of many millions for Chestnut. What’s more Chestnut is expanding — over the course of the pandemic, the landlord acquired over 1,600 units of rental housing at a value of over $300 million.

This graphic (courtest of LISC) illustrates the extraction of money from properties in the speculation cycle. Properties like the one Jay lives in owned by Chestnut Holdings utilize the income to purchase additional properties and skimp on repairs and maintenance to leverage more debt.UNHP co-authored a report with LISC entitled Gambling with Homes that delves more deeply into the consequences of speculation on tenants – especially Black and Hispanic low-income renter households.

While Chestnut has profited, Jay’s apartment has suffered. He has been in the Bronx since the 1980s and raised his family here as a mental health worker. Jay’s wife passed away about 7 years ago and his daughters live close by; one of his daughters was selected for a new affordable apartment building. Jay has lived in apartments all his life – but where he lives now is untenable. Jay feels that the super is doing his best but needs help: “It’s not kept up… It’s a big building and they got him [the super] fixing up apartments,” and trying to clean the building. “So– the building’s not being cleaned properly. I’m not used to living like this.”

Because of the poor conditions of his building and concerns around safety, Jay is begrudgingly open to moving out of the borough he calls home if it means better and safer conditions. Like Mrs. Garcia, Jay’s apartment search experience on Housing Connect has been fraught with technological issues and frustration. He welcomes the new developments in the Bronx as he feels the new buildings help people see their community in a new way, but he criticizes the complicated nature of the Housing Connect portal and feels that people with technological issues are being excluded. Keeping up with the lotteries, logging in, getting codes – “I’m just having a rough time, that’s it.”

Long-Time Bronxite Resident Notes Higher Rents for Smaller Apartments

When UNHP reached out to Dawn to see if she’d like to participate in a meeting with other Housing Connect users – she could not wait to share her frustrations with the system! Dawn works hard as a home health aide and earns in the mid $40,000 range. She noticed, however, that her income isn’t enough for many of the units offered on the affordable lottery portal: “What makes it so bad is that you look at the Housing Connect, and they are looking for people with incomes of over $90,000. I said, they must be crazy.”

Dawn recalls the disinvestment in the Bronx during the 1970s and 80s when speaking about the state of affordable housing in the Bronx today. She remembers when the apartments were designed for living and could accommodate large families with spacious rooms, closets and dining nooks. But searching on the Housing Connect portal, Dawn has discovered that the apartments being built are much smaller, yet more expensive: “they build the buildings, and make the apartments smaller – that way they can make more apartments.”

As an almost 50-year resident of the Bronx, Dawn has witnessed a lot of change, but this sudden increase in rent prices and small apartments is a new trend. According to data provided by the Furman Center, the median rent in the Bronx increased by over 30% from 2000 to 2019. In that same period, the median household income decreased slightly overall. As people like Dawn deal simultaneously with rising rents and stagnant wages, the proportion of their income which must be spent on housing becomes an increasing burden, and many renters are forced to seek smaller or less desirable units just to make ends meet. Living in her current one-bedroom, Dawn feels like she’s being forced to downsize to a studio because of the high-income requirements for Housing Connect lotteries. Despite making almost $10,000 above the median income of Bronx residents and making sacrifices such as working more than 30 hours a week, a one-bedroom in the Bronx is still out of her income range. Dawn works long and hard days as a home health aide so that she can pay rent. Always quick with a joke, she says: “I make it. I make it. And then I don’t eat much, because I’m a little person. I don’t eat much.”

Although her current apartment is larger and in a quiet, private residence in the Bronx, she worries about staying long-term. The owners are older and struggle to address upkeep and a growing mold problem. As a tenant in a private home, Dawn can be displaced by the next set of owners. But don’t be fooled by Dawn’s refreshing sense of humor and liveliness; she means to enact serious change for her and her neighbors by joining our Bronx AHORA group. Observant and passionate, Dawn continues to question the efficacy of the Housing Connect system: “That’s not affordable housing. Why would you put it on Housing Connect when they say it’s affordable housing? That’s what I don’t get.”

“Welcome to Hell”: Tenant’s Lived Experience Confirms Distressed Building Data

Glennys is a special education aide who emigrated to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic in 2009. Although she lived with her mother when she first moved to the neighborhood, her mother has since moved to a senior building with Section 8 housing. Now, Glennys rents one room for both herself and her nine-year-old son, but her rental agreement is only verbal – not formalized by a written lease. Glennys does not feel safe in her building due to a lack of security. Once she saw a person trying to force his way into the building very late at night, and she feared for her and her son’s safety. Other tenants of the building feel similarly to Glennys: “When I first moved in, they told me I was another victim: ‘welcome to hell.’ I didn’t understand at that time, I didn’t know what they meant. But later, I understood I was another victim in that hell.” – “Cuando yo me mudé por primera vez, me dijeron que hubo otra víctima y bienvenido al infierno. Yo no entendí en ese momento, yo no sabía porque yo lo vi como bien. Pero después, hubo otra víctima en ese infierno.”

The owner of Glennys’ building, Martin Meyer, is a well-known predatory landlord who has been the target of tenant organizing campaigns in the Bronx. The building is plagued with persistently unresolved code violations and other issues that are apparent in the available data, so much so that our BIP database has identified the building as likely to have been in physical or financial distress multiple times over the past decade.

UNHP’s Multifamily Research and Action Center tracks levels of distress in multifamily properties in our historic Building Indicator Database ( BIP) and shares this information with banks, banking regulators, tenant advocates, and community groups. Multifamily building distress levels have risen over 200% in the past 5 years. In the stories shared here on this post, UNHP ran the distress levels in each of the properties that tenants shared as deteriorated – the data backed up the tenant’s lived claim of poor building conditions with distress scores of over 800, high levels of distress, open violations, and complaints on the buildings.

Glennys has applied to 9 lotteries through Housing Connect to try to find a home with more privacy and safety for her and her son, but she is continually denied. This has led to increasing frustration for her and, at times, she has even thought that the lotteries may be fake. “It was about 5 or 6 years ago that I applied with you and then I thought it was a lie. I thought it was impossible. I got too frustrated,” she explained. Many other Housing Connect users share this belief that the program may be fraudulent. The system is convoluted and effective communication seems impossible with the extremely high volume of individuals applying through the site. As a result, many have turned to conspiracy as an answer to the unfathomable mismanagement and incompetence that people have experienced in dealing with the Housing Connect process. Translated from Spanish

Housing Seeker Strives to Find Enough Space for the Whole Family

Since retiring in 2003 as a result of her disability, María has lived with her 19-year-old daughter in an apartment building in Fordham Heights. She has a Section 8 voucher for her 2-bedroom apartment, but she wants to relocate because of the rising crime in the neighborhood. Her building does not have an elevator, and the necessary repairs take a long time to be addressed. After María placed a repair request in June, it took months for a Sector 8 inspector to take a look at the problem. María explained,“I want to live quietly and clean. Since they don’t fix things, you know, you have to be dependent, and I want to be in a cleaner place.” – “Quiero vivir tranquilamente y limpio. Como no arreglan – ya sabes – las cosas, tiene que estar dependiente y quiero estar en un lugar más limpio.”

Like her fellow Bronx AHORA participant Jay, María lives in a building owned by Chestnut Holdings. In addition to the substandard conditions that María describes, tenants also must deal with a profound sense of insecurity in their homes: incredibly, in her building, almost 90% of the 26 tenant households have had an eviction filed against them, according to publicly available data.

Eviction filings are the highest in the Bronx and have continued through the pandemic. Aggressive eviction filings, ongoing poor building conditions, and safety issues drive tenants to seek new affordable rental housing in a housing crisis. Community safety, building conditions, and preservation alongside building for low-income families and individuals are needed in tandem to address this escalating affordability crisis.

María is trying hard to find a better home for her and her daughter and has already applied to 30 open lotteries on Housing Connect. She says that “the Housing Connect process is a bit long. I’ve been applying for years, you know after I got involved in this interview…. I think the process is still long, but I’m struggling to understand it better.” Despite submitting 30 different applications, María has only been called back once about an apartment. She recalled, “Once I was in Santo Domingo and they called me, but it was for a single room. But I have my daughter, and I said I couldn’t, because she can’t be in the same room with me, and I told her no. And I didn’t bring the documents that I have to bring. But they said there were other apartments, but I couldn’t accept for a single room.” María continues to seek an affordable apartment with the appropriate space for her and her adult daughter while also sharing her extensive experience with the affordable housing portal for the benefit of other Bronx AHORA members. Translated from Spanish

Home Health Aide Jumps through the Housing Connect Hoops and is Tired of the Demanding, Illogical, and Inflexible Approval Process

Milagros emigrated to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic in 2015. In the DR, she was an executive secretary at the Central Electoral Board, but she does not feel qualified to pursue similar work in the US due to her language abilities. She says, “I didn’t really get an equal job basically because of the language. Yes, I have done courses, but really my level of English, I feel like it’s not enough to have fluent conversations professionally.” Now she makes her living as a home health aid here in the city.

After separating from her spouse in 2016, Milagros moved from a full apartment into a rented room in the Jerome Park neighborhood, where she still lives today. Her room is located in an apartment that is used during the day as a daycare, so Milagros has little privacy and many restrictions on her space. For example, she is never allowed to have visitors, even when she may be in a situation where she needs care or assistance from her loved ones. Despite the inconvenience of the space, her rent is $700-750, which is more than 30% of her monthly income.

To date, Milagros has applied for 32 open lotteries on Housing Connect, but she struggles to find places that she qualifies for based on minimum income requirements for a single person. Twice she was called back about her Housing Connect applications, but both times she became frustrated by the process. She explains, “In the 2 interviews I have had, for example… you have to compile a series of documents and it is not so easy to get these. They only give you 10 days. It is uphill because not all the places where I request the documents want to give them in such a short time. With the pressure, you have to work, you have to go out and be diligent, it is very hard. On both occasions, I got everything that they asked for. Thank God, I got it.” – “En las 2 entrevistas que he tenido, por ejemplo, en la primera, buena en ambas, hay que recopilar una serie de documentos y no es tan fácil de conseguir. Solo le dan plazo de 10 días, es cuesta arriba porque no en todos los lugares que solicitaron los documentos lo quieren dar en poco tiempo. Eso es lo primero. Con la presión que tiene que trabajar, tiene que salir a ser diligente, es poco forzoso, entonces en ambas ocasiones yo conseguí todo, aunque lo que pidieron gracias a Dios lo conseguí.”


However, despite working hard to jump through all of these hoops, Milagros was denied. She says, “In the first interview I had, apparently I had everything perfect, the documentation. The excuse they gave me was that my income – after they supposedly reviewed everything – was missing approximately $100 to meet the requirement. But that for me was a little frustrating because, for example, in the letter from the person that I rent from, they say that I paid $700, and I did pay $700 without fail. At that moment I thought, if I’m not mistaken I would be paying $400 [in rent], and they denied me because I’m missing income. So that took me out of it.” Milagros was devastated to miss this opportunity, but there was little recourse to try to appeal the decision. She says, “I couldn’t even say, but look, check, look, well this, that… I mean, there wasn’t any kind of consideration, and that was really upsetting.” Experiences like this one have motivated Milagros to try to effect change as a member of Bronx AHORA, and the group stands to benefit from her insights. Translated from Spanish

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