Brutal Bureaucracy


Obtaining and maintaining housing support in NYC is a complex, costly and time-consuming job for precisely those who these programs exist to help.

New York City has a patchwork of social safety net programs cobbled together from federal, state and city funding sources, creating a complicated mix of procedural and eligibility requirements that rely on an army of case managers and navigators, who are also tasked with navigating the systems’ inefficiencies.

Our bureaucratic systems aren’t designed for efficiency. Often, they are not even designed for results. Part of the problem is a social safety net that was designed with the “deserving poor” in mind, creating an assumption that if someone needs help badly enough, he or she will persist through the gauntlet of requirements, and that if we make it too easy, people who don’t really “need” the help will gain access.

Tonight, tens of thousands of New Yorkers, including children, are homeless. The City alone spends more than $1 billion on shelters, and numerous other government, nonprofit, and private stakeholders are devoting increasing resources towards addressing this critical issue. With scarce affordable housing options to address the homeless crisis, it is essential that we optimize the resources that we have available, place the applicant in the center of the process, and make the process as efficient as possible.

Brutal Bureaucracy is a multi-year CHPC initiative focused on better understanding the impact of our bureaucratic processes in obtaining housing support in NYC, dissecting the processes, and developing strategies for reform.

In late 2021, we released the first paper in this initiative focused on how long it takes for tenants to move into new affordable housing through NYC’s lottery process. The paper revealed that on average it takes 371 days to fill all the units in a NYC housing lottery, despite units being available and ready for occupancy. The study received a huge amount of media and political attention and paved the way for a renewed priority within City government on making it faster for applicants to receive housing support and to center users in the application process.

CHPC continues to focus on the Brutal Bureaucracy of obtaining housing support. Forthcoming projects will include: additional analysis of the speed of the process with multivariate analysis, recommendations for process improvements, and best practices in the allocation of affordable housing in other global cities.

Brutal Bureaucracy: NYC Housing Connect Analysis

CHPC's First Brutal Bureaucracy Paper

Key Findings

  • On average it takes 371 days to fill all the units in a NYC housing lottery, despite units being available and ready for occupancy.
  • Project variables such as building size, AMI level, or number of applications received are not correlated with prolonged rent-up times.
  • One in three housing lotteries did not begin until months after a building was already ready for occupancy, resulting in units sitting empty despite being ready to house New Yorkers.
  • The Mayors Management Report does not measure the time it takes to rent up the affordable housing units that the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) finances and builds.

Additional Housing Connect Analysis

Using a new tranche of more granular and inclusive lottery data, CHPC expanded upon its previous analysis of how long it takes for tenants to move into new affordable lottery units.

The resulting analysis of lottery durations (marketing start to lease-up) and unit vacancy durations (TCO/CO to lease-up) found that:

  • One in three lotteries began marketing only after units were completed, leaving units sitting vacant for longer
  • Projects participating in the Inclusionary Housing and 421-a programs experienced longer lease-up times
  • Substantial variation in lease-up times existing among the boroughs, with lease-up taking markedly longer in Manhattan and Brooklyn

These and other findings highlight the importance of the routine compilation and monitoring of lease-up data to support ongoing process improvement. CHPC also recommends the exploration of alternative models, including the piloting of audit-based placement systems.

Explore another Brutal Bureaucracy process: NYCHA's repair process is visualized through CHPC's Life of a Work Order project

Other CHPC Publications on Process Reform


Brutal Bureaucracy Follow-up: Additional Housing Connect Analysis

CHPC expands its analysis of affordable housing lease-up times with new, more granular data.

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Design & Housing Typologies

Basement Apartment Conversion Pilot Program Interim Report

The focus of this interim report is to describe why properties did or did not advance through the pilot and to outline additional changes that would enable the implementation of an effective legalization program at scale.

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Design & Housing Typologies

Onward and Upward: A Technical Guide to Zoning Reform

Onward and Upward offers a detailed guide to the zoning and regulatory changes necessary to create a new housing supply with a focus on affordability, equity, sustainability, and economic recovery.

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Brutal Bureaucracy: NYC Housing Connect Analysis

Read the CHPC issue brief that explores how long it takes for New Yorkers to move into new affordable lottery units.

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People & Neighborhoods

Housing for Essential Workers: Policy Brief

In a new policy brief, CHPC explores the role of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York and makes the case why the City should prioritize essential workers in the allocation of affordable housing.

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Maintenance & Operation

Equitable Code Enforcement: Policy Brief

Enforcement of New York City's building codes and the codes themselves may seem impartial, but they contribute to the inequities experienced by many New Yorkers.

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People & Neighborhoods

Rezoning SoHo/NoHo: Issue Brief

Read the CHPC issue brief explaining why rezoning SoHo/NoHo is such an important legacy, and urging the City to take action before it is too late.

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Design & Housing Typologies

Housing Policy Solutions for COVID-19

CHPC’s issue brief lays out housing policy solutions for COVID-19 to help New York City respond to and recover from the pandemic.

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Relevant Testimony

CHPC in the media

Initiative Sponsors