Winning the Housing Lottery – The New York Times

Winning the Housing Lottery – The New York Times

When Rebekah Miranda and her daughter Amber Valentin moved into a brand-new apartment last September, it was a first for both of them. Ms. Miranda, 45, had lived in the same three-bedroom in the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx since she was a year old, and she had raised her four daughters there. Ms. Valentin, 18, her youngest, had lived there her entire life.

Certainly, it wasn’t love for their old place that had kept them there so long. The apartment, located in Forest Houses, a New York City Housing Authority project, was in constant disrepair, and Ms. Miranda, a 911 dispatcher, often returned from work at odd hours to find strangers hanging out in the building.

“I’d come home and there would be people in the lobby that didn’t even live there,” said Ms. Miranda, who was also unhappy about the condition of the building.

“It was just continuous repairs being done year after year — roof leaking, paint peeling. I got tired of it,” she said. “I was embarrassed to have people over with all the repairs needing to be done in the kitchen and bathroom.”

Her parents had left years earlier when they bought a condo nearby, and her siblings had moved to other neighborhoods and cities as well. But Ms. Miranda never felt she could risk going herself. In the projects, rent was tied to income, so if her hours were cut or she lost her job, she wouldn’t lose her home.

Her caution seemed prudent when FEGS, the social-service nonprofit where she’d been a program assistant for years, declared bankruptcy in 2015 and she lost her job. By then, two of her daughters had left home, but Amber and another daughter who was completing a master’s degree in social work were still living with her.

“To risk making less and not being able to make rent scared me,” Ms. Miranda said. “I didn’t want to take chances.”

A few years ago, however, a friend who’d found an affordable apartment through a housing lottery urged her to do the same. “I started applying for every lottery in the Bronx,” said Ms. Miranda, who didn’t want to work too far from the borough’s dispatch center near Pelham Bay. She was contacted about several units, but was twice denied because the overtime she worked had pushed her above the income cap.

Finally, she got a call about a two-bedroom at St. Augustine Terrace, a new 12-story building on the site of an old Catholic Church on East 167th Street. This one she qualified for, and she and Ms. Valentin, who is now a student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, moved in last fall, paying $1,066 a month.

$1,066 | Morrisania

Occupation: Ms. Miranda is a 911 dispatcher. Ms. Valentin studies psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
St. Augustine Terrace: A third of its 112 affordable units are designated for adults with mental illness, who are served by the Beacon of Hope Division of Catholic Charities Community Services.
Ms. Valentin’s sisters: They all live in the New York area, though only one remains in the Bronx. “We all have a group text. We used to get together more when everyone lived closer,” Ms. Miranda said. “But they’ll all come over for dinner.”
The electric bill: Ms. Miranda at first worried about the cost, because she had never been responsible for electricity. “But because we get so much natural light, Con Ed doesn’t need to be on much.”

Large windows in the apartments and common spaces are among the most distinctive features of the building, which was designed for Affiliates of Catholic Charities by Magnusson Architecture and Planning. The firm included floor-to-ceiling windows in the expansive elevator lobbies on every floor, taking advantage of the fact that in an affordable-housing development, views didn’t have to be reserved for the most expensive apartments.

“The windows caught my eye automatically when I walked in,” Ms. Miranda said. “They’re huge. You can sit on the windowsill and look out when it rains. It’s gorgeous.”

The building sits atop a rocky hill and is surrounded by a landscaped garden. “The view from the top is amazing,” Ms. Miranda said. “When you come out of the elevator, it’s all windows. On the Fourth of July we went up to the top floor to watch the fireworks.”

Ms. Valentin and Ms. Miranda say they are surprised by how quiet it is in their first-floor apartment. “We thought being on the first floor, the noise would be crazy,” Ms. Miranda said. “It’s super quiet. Even on the hottest days this year we didn’t hear much.”

Except for the hardwood floors, that is. Never having lived in a new building before, the women didn’t realize that new wood floors settle. “It would suddenly sound like someone was walking in the living room at night and scare us,” Ms. Miranda said.

“I feel really, really happy here,” Ms. Valentin said, “and much safer. Our other neighborhood was just five blocks up, but there’s a stigma of living in the projects even though it’s the same area.”

Of course, moving after 43 years in the same apartment wasn’t easy. “I got rid of so much stuff,” said Ms. Miranda, who estimated that she discarded about half their possessions and shredded box upon box of papers.

“Moving was a bittersweet experience,” she said. “I miss the memories, like when the girls were growing up and we’d have movie nights. But I don’t miss the apartment. Some nights we sit here, watching TV in the dark and it’s so quiet. I’m like, ‘I can’t believe we live here.’ ”

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