Winning The (Affordable Housing) Lottery And A Start To A New Life

With 158 applicants to 1 apartment, the odds of getting an apartment were daunting.

The Fountains in East NY. Credit: Gerri Hernandez

Janeen Hurst went from having a small corner for her things in a friend’s basement apartment in Queens to getting her own apartment for the first time at 48 years old. She wouldn’t have a sea-blue accent wall and DIY walk-in closet if it wasn’t for The Fountains, an affordable housing complex in East New York.

“When The Fountains called me, I was very excited, basically crying, you know? It’s just a great feeling; I really love it,” Hurst said. “I felt God had something else for me, and I just did what I did until better came. So when this came, I was like, oh my God, are you serious?”

Hurst was the first person to sign a lease at The Fountains and moved in on April 15 of this year. She has been a medical biller for over 30 years and had applied to several places over the past few years, with no luck. She said she’s always wanted to have someone pick her for one of the affordable housing units.

Apartments at The Fountains are allocated through the affordable housing lottery, run by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development. The odds are not in favor of those applying for the truly affordable units – there were over 58,000 applicants for the 332 units in the first two affordable housing buildings at The Fountains. Those are all currently filled. Four other buildings are in the works. 

One hundred seventy-five families applied for each of the affordable units, indicating just how badly Brooklyn and New York need truly affordable (aimed at 60% of AMI) housing. “In 2018, there were more than 4.6 million applicants, with the odds of winning just 1 in 592. In 2012, there were fewer units available, but the odds were far better, at 1 in 80; in 2011, they were 1 in 63,” according to The New York Times.

Residents at The Fountains have incredibly different backgrounds, but all echo a similar theme: The Fountains were a start to a new life.

Hurst, 48, was paying $1,500 to stay in her friend’s apartment before scoring a one-bedroom unit at The Fountains building on Seaview Avenue. Now, she’s paying $759 and said she’s “very comfortable.” Hurst isn’t used to having her own place, and it wasn’t until September when she finally unpacked her boxes. 

“I said, ‘Ok enough is enough, Janeen, this is really yours, take everything out and put it up,’” she said. “It was so bad when I would go from place to place, and I was still in that mindset.” 

Another resident, Kaleena Small, 38, came from a domestic violence shelter where she stayed for four years with her 6-year-old daughter Keandrea before moving into The Fountains on Seaview Avenue.

“I thought they were joking for a minute,” she said about receiving the call that she had landed a unit. “I thought I was gonna be at the shelter a little bit longer, but when they called me and let me know, I jumped up. I was screaming, and I was excited.”

Small moved into a one-bedroom apartment with her daughter on May 13. Since then, she has converted the living room into space for herself, while her daughter transformed the bedroom into her own, something she hadn’t had before. 

6-year-old Keandrea in her very own bedroom at The Fountains. Courtesy of Kaleena Small.

“The way things had been going, I was close to giving up because every apartment I went to go see, they rejected me, and it was just a lot,” she said. “That’s why when they had called me, I thought it was a prank or something, but it was really official. It was a good day.”

Having this affordable housing unit has allowed Small to focus on her daughter’s schooling and go back to school herself with hopes to get her GED. She said The Fountains came to her rescue when she needed it most. 

Residents repeatedly applied for affordable housing units through the lottery before The Fountains. All the residents that Bklyner spoke to explained that for years, they applied and applied but were denied.

Ravita Lynch, 42, works for the NYPD safety division and before The Fountains was living in a housing development in the projects with two of her three children, ages five and 14. Lynch had been denied affordable housing units, allegedly for being overqualified. 

“They kept denying me, and I just couldn’t understand, and they couldn’t give me a real solid answer,” she said. “They wasn’t looking at the real numbers, I guess.”

Since moving in, Lynch gave the two bedrooms to two of her children, her third is away at college. Her 5-year-old daughter Jada, who Lynch calls her “little diva,” has added a unicorn carpet and dreamcatchers to her room. While her 14-year-old son Jahseem has gone with a train theme to match his loving obsession with them and the MTA. 

The Fountains offer more than just affordable housing, according to the residents, they offer high-end experiences. Many voiced their love for the appliances, security, laundry room, rec room, and the location. The convenience of transportation and being close to the mall are all things that add to the new life.

“The affordable housing shortage is a national crisis, specifically during this extremely challenging moment in time. The fact that the Fountains was able to allow residents to move in during the pandemic was a significant and necessary step towards helping those struggling,” said Alex Arker, Principal at The Arker Companies. “Everyone deserves a safe, stable, and affordable home. We at The Arker Companies hope that this six-building, 100% affordable housing development will set the stage for future affordable housing projects across the city.”

The final four affordable housing buildings of The Fountains aim to open by the end of the year. Applications are still being accepted for 881 Erskine Street and 894 Fountain Avenue, while applications for 10 Schroeder’s Walk and 702 Vandalia Avenue have closed. 

In total, there will be 1,163 residential units across the six buildings.

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Keira Wingate

Keira was an intern for Bklyner and continues to freelance here. She has her BA in Journalism and currently goes to The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. When she's not working or writing you can find her cuddling her cat or eating potatoes.

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