By Mariana Calvo
At Ariva, our numerous financial counseling programs help low-income New Yorkers reach greater financial health in order to achieve their goals. One of those is a housing program which helps New Yorkers prepare to apply for the affordable housing lottery by providing free one-on-one financial counseling and assistance with their applications.
To better understand this vital work, Mariana Calvo, our Census Captain and content-creator, interviewed Andrew Erway, our financial counselor who specializes in the affordable housing program.
Mariana Calvo: Could you give us a brief overview of your role at Ariva?
Andrew Erway: My role is to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s are crossed in our clients’ affordable housing applications. We do credit checks and budgeting to make sure their applications are as robust as possible. We prepare clients for their housing interviews. And we also make sure to stay up to date with housing rules in order to notify our clients of any changes.
Our goal is to make sure that our clients are always working towards remaining financially healthy not just for their own good, but also in the event that they are selected for an apartment.
MC: Could you give us a more detailed summary of what’s involved with financial counseling for affordable housing seekers?
AE: Sure. There are two ways to apply for affordable housing: a paper form and an online form. The application asks prospective tenants different questions about their income, the number of people that live in their household, where they want to rent, and what they are looking for. The online portal also offers descriptions of the kinds of units that are available.
We come into play by giving prospective tenants all the information and financial skills they need to be a qualified candidate for the particular unit they’re looking for. A client can speak to us before filling out their application, while filling out their application, and after filling out their application.
There are two ways that clients can show that they’re reliable prospective tenants. The first is via a credit check. Applicants must have healthy credit to be in good standing for an affordable apartment. The second way is through a 12-month rental history, which is a part of a new initiative spearheaded by the housing lottery itself that asks prospective tenants to show they have paid their rent on time consistently for the last 12 months.
Another critical aspect of the housing application is income. You have to have your income calculated perfectly. Let’s say the application says you can’t make over $45,000; you have to make sure all of your earnings fall within the bracket that makes you eligible for that apartment; you can’t be over and you can’t be under.
Then you have assets and savings. To apply, you can only have a certain amount of money in assets and savings. To calculate your eligibility, we use a percentage vs. money type system that shows exactly how much you are allowed to have in assets.
The reason we do this is because the whole idea of affordable housing is that you need a cheaper option that is available and accessible to you because privately rented options are not feasible for you.
Finally, there’s the security deposit. To be able to rent an affordable apartment, you need to show you have enough money in savings for a security deposit. To do that, we work with our clients’ budgets to see where their spending is at. We see how much they’re allocating to food and subscriptions. Is their cell phone bill too high? We take a look at their earnings so they can start building savings, so they’ll be able to have their security deposit ready when it comes time for their interview with the housing lottery.
MC: How long does this whole process take?
AE: We like to look at it like an ongoing process. Our work is not solely confined to the housing lottery; it’s also about helping our clients achieve great financial health. The thing with the housing lottery is that you could get picked tomorrow or you could get picked in two years, but the idea is to always have your application ready and updated. Our goal is to make sure that our clients are always working towards remaining financially healthy not just for their own good, but also in the event that they are selected for an apartment.
MC: How does housing factor into Ariva’s overall mission?
AE: I’ve been working for Ariva for about six months now, and I believe that our work with housing really fits into the goal we aim to achieve. We want your credit to be good so that you are financially healthy. We want to make sure you have enough in savings so that you can obtain an apartment. We want to make sure your assets are within limits so that you can have access to an affordable apartment. Housing is critical in our goal to empower low-wealth New Yorkers.
MC: This is a Census year. How does the Census help you do your job better?
AE: The Census and housing are two things that couldn’t go together more perfectly. The Census gives us the statistics and the information of who is here and what is going on in a very black and white way. Because of the Census, we know that we have a huge population that is rent-burdened, which sheds light on where our priorities need to be. The Census couldn’t have come at a better time, because it shows exactly what the needs of our community are, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, so we can then decide how to address them. Everyone can — and should! — get funding & representation for their community by taking the Census at https://2020census.gov/
The Census couldn’t have come at a better time, because it shows exactly what the needs of our community are, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, so we can then decide how to address them. Everyone can — and should! — get funding & representation for their community by taking the Census at https://2020census.gov/
MC: How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your line of work? And how do you think your work helps people deal with the aftermath of this virus?
AE: COVID puts in perspective that we need these options for New Yorkers, and it makes me more motivated to keep going with this line of work. People need healthy, safe, and sounf apartments. People need places to live. Being a part of that process is incredibly rewarding, especially now that there are so many people struggling economically. There’s a need for our city to come together, and our work with affordable housing helps in that mission.
MC: Have you had any firsthand experience with how COVID has affected low-income New Yorkers?
AE: Our organization has really pulled forward for New Yorkers. We went into a mode where, yes, our main goal was to help everyone who came to us find affordable housing. But if their needs fell a little bit outside of the specific fields we help with, we took initiative. We helped our clients with COVID push through. In one particular instance, I had a client who needed assistance with food because she had been infected with coronavirus and was not able to leave her house, so I was able to call 311 and get food delivered to her.
MC: What has been the most satisfying part of participating in the program?
AE: The most satisfying part is getting to see all the supplementary benefits that people receive from getting assistance via our housing program. While our goal is to take our clients in the direction of affordable housing, along the way they might realize that they can go the private route or that maybe they need to work on their credit for buying a car instead. They might realize that, for the time being, they need to focus on saving money for emergencies, or that they need to open a bank account to become more financially healthy in the long term. Overall, the greatest satisfaction is seeing clients start off with the goal of applying for an apartment and coming out of it by attaining other supplemental goals that allow them to live a healthier financial life.
Are you a New Yorker looking for assistance with an affordable housing application? Contact Ariva by telephone at 718–292–2983 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org!