Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Lottery slots awarded for SF LGBT senior housing


Maria Benjamin, right, from the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, pushes a button to activate the electronic lottery drawing for housing at the 55 Laguna senior project. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Ray Rudolph stood nervously at the back of the packed dining hall inside Francis of Assisi Community, an independent living facility in San Francisco's Mission Dolores neighborhood.

Like many of the more than 100 other people present that Thursday morning, July 7, Rudolph was there to see how he would fare in the lottery for 31 rooms in the city's first affordable housing development intended for LGBT seniors. A few blocks away construction was ongoing at the site of the project, the former Richardson Hall college building located at 55 Laguna Street.

One of 1,806 people who had applied to live there, Rudolph, 66, a gay man, for four decades has lived near the project in a rent-controlled apartment. But fearful of being kicked out of his home, he had decided to throw his name in the mix to be selected as one of the inaugural residents at 55 Laguna.

"I think they are slim. I know that," Rudolph acknowledged about his chances in the lottery. "But I am going to be optimistic. I took a hard-hat tour of the building the other week. It looks like it is coming along nicely."

The project, a joint venture between Openhouse, the LGBT senior services agency, and Mercy Housing California, which develops below-market-rate housing, is slated to be complete by September with the first residents moving into their units in October. There will be a total of 40 residential units in the building, with one set aside for a resident manager.

Eight units at 55 Laguna will be given to people aged 55 or older who are living with HIV or AIDS at risk of homelessness. Those residents are being chosen through a separate selection process overseen by the city's human services agency.

Construction of the project's second phase, a new building with 79 units of affordable senior housing to be built on what is now a surface parking lot, should break ground next year. Fourteen of those units will be set aside for seniors age 62 or older living with HIV or AIDS at risk of homelessness. The lottery to select residents for the remaining units is slated for sometime in 2018.

"It's been a long time coming. Here we have a beautiful, LGBT-friendly community. It is a great day for a lot of reasons," Maria Benjamin, director of homeownership and below market rate programs at the city's housing office, told the crowd that had assembled to witness the lottery for the 55 Laguna units.

The selection process has been fraught with controversy and concerns within the LGBT community that most of the residents will, in fact, be straight seniors. Due to anti-discrimination laws, the city cannot restrict who can apply to live at 55 Laguna based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

A large majority of the people who attended the lottery, which was not required of applicants, appeared to be gay white men. But there were also about a dozen Asian American seniors present, as well as several African-American and Latino applicants.

A list shown of all the names of the people who applied included many Asian surnames, which was unsurprising as the city's Chinese community in particular has long been organizing its low-income seniors to apply for affordable housing when it becomes available.

"One of the reasons I am here is to see how many LGBT people as opposed to other ethnic groups applied," admitted Randolph, who feels the city could have done more to ensure the units go to LGBT seniors. "I think it could have been better handled by the city."

Signaling the frustration of seeing so few affordable housing units marketed to LGBT seniors was applicant Frank Pietronigro, 61, a gay man who lives on Twin Peaks.

"Ask the mayor to do a thousand more of these, not just one for the thousands of people who applied," he requested of Benjamin.

Pietronigro told the Bay Area Reporter that the response to the 55 Laguna lottery clearly demonstrates the need for the city to build more affordable housing for all seniors. He added that the willingness of non-LGBT seniors to want to live in a development meant for LGBT people is a sign of progress in its own respect.

"We are all in this together. There is not enough housing for anyone," said Pietronigro. "I am loving that people want to move into an LGBT housing center from other communities. I think that is OK but shows we need more housing."

City officials did take a number of steps intended to boost the chances of LGBT seniors in the lottery. They reduced the window to apply down to roughly two weeks from the usual 30 days.

They also set aside 16 of the units for people who either live in District 8, which includes the gay Castro neighborhood, or within a half mile of the project. Falling into that category, used for the first time in a housing lottery since becoming city policy, was 382 applicants.

They also announced people who live or work in San Francisco would have preference for the units, making it near impossible for people with no current ties to the city to be selected. Applicants in this group totaled 1,361.

According to the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, which oversaw the lottery process, 13 of the applicants fell under the first preference category for people who were displaced from their homes in the city during the 1960s and 1970s.

Another 16 applicants fell into the second preference category for eight of the units earmarked for people who have more recently been forced out of their homes due to an Ellis Act or owner move in eviction.

Berkeley resident William Mitchell, 62, a gay black man, believes he falls under the first preference category as he was displaced from his homes in both the Western Addition and Chinatown due to redevelopment projects decades ago. But he said he had been told conflicting responses on if he does qualify to be in the first group.

"It is one hurdle after another," he said. "They are pushing minorities out and this LGBT housing probably is not going to be given to gay seniors. I am not happy about that at all."

The lottery for 55 Laguna marked the first time the city used a computer program to rank participants in order based on how they qualified under the four separate preferences being used to select the residents. Roughly an hour after the doors opened that morning at 10 a.m., the ranking of slots was complete within a second of a button being pushed.

Benjamin stressed that "just because you get a housing preference doesn't mean you automatically get a unit. Your age matters. Your income matters." And she warned the crowd that the selection process "ain't over. Once you are selected there is a whole other slew of documents requested of you."

The list of names and how applicants fell under each preference category will be posted online Thursday, July 14, at Beginning Monday Mercy staff will begin contacting the applicants in their ranking order to schedule interviews to ensure they qualify for the units.

A wait list of up to 400 names will be created for the units available in the future based on the lottery rankings. While he landed in number 799 overall, Rudolph is number 180 under the third preference category for people who live in District 8 or near the project. He also is number 602 under the fourth preference for people living or working in the city.

"I am in the middle of the pack and I am sort of OK with that. I am not thrilled but OK," he said. "I am a protected tenant in my apartment now, so I will fight to stay here until they build the next building. It would be nice to live in a landmark building like Richardson Hall with all the murals. But I will be OK."



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