Lottery for SF LGBT Senior Housing Nears

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Saturday April 16, 2016
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The application process for apartments in San Francisco's first LGBT senior housing development will open in a little more than a month, with the lottery to select residents likely to be held in late June.

The $16 million renovation of 55 Laguna, known as Richardson Hall, is a joint venture between Openhouse, a nonprofit LGBT senior services provider, and Mercy Housing California, which develops below-market-rate housing. The former college building will house 40 apartments, one of which will be set aside for a resident manager and eight will be designated for people living with HIV at risk for homelessness.

It is the first phase in an estimated $40 million project that will result in 119 units of affordable senior housing split between two buildings. An additional nine units are being built than what had been originally proposed by reconfiguring the layout of the second building.

Located at 95 Laguna, it is slated to open in the spring of 2018. It will have 79 apartments, 14 of which will be designated for people living with HIV or AIDS. One unit will house a resident manager, with the rest awarded by lottery.

It is expected that in late May, the official date has yet to be determined, applications for 55 Laguna will be made available for those seniors 55 and older who wish to live in one of the 31 units that will be awarded through the lottery. A different selection process will be used for the apartments set aside for seniors living with HIV or AIDS.

Due to anti-discrimination laws, the city can't restrict straight seniors from applying to live at 55 Laguna. City officials, however, expect that several criteria being put in place to select the residents should benefit LGBT applicants.

Monthly rents are expected to range from $821 for a studio to $1,146 for a two bedroom unit.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener told the Bay Area Reporter that the normal 28-day period to apply for the lottery would be reduced to just a week for 55 Laguna.

"Seven days is sufficient to get a very strong response from the community and get people into the lottery," said Wiener. "Openhouse has been doing great community outreach for years on this, so people will be able to get into the lottery."

Openhouse Executive Director Seth Kilbourn, however, told the B.A.R. that the window to file an application for 55 Laguna could be open for 10 weekdays. The Mayor's Office of Housing, which will oversee the lottery, is still finalizing the details.

One thing that has been decided is the lottery will not be restricted to seniors who either live or work in San Francisco, as Kilbourn decided against doing so. Due to LGBT seniors being displaced from the city, whether due to high housing costs or being evicted, Kilbourn felt it was important to give them a chance to move back at 55 Laguna.

"A significant number of people who come to our programs come from the East Bay. This is where their community is," he said. "I felt giving them the opportunity to move back here would be the right thing to do and be well received by the community."

The decision is not one supported by Wiener, who late last year had told the B.A.R. he expected the city to restrict applicants to 55 Laguna to those seniors living or working in San Francisco. He is pushing for the city to adopt legislation that would make the restriction be the policy for all new affordable housing developments.

"We have many residents of this city who are at serious risk of losing their housing. We need to take care of our residents first and foremost," Wiener told the B.A.R. when asked if he agreed with the decision to allow any senior to apply for 55 Laguna. "My view is that San Francisco residents should have the highest priority for accessing affordable housing in San Francisco, period."

District 8 Residents Given Preference

The city has adopted a rule that restricts 40 percent of the units in new affordable housing developments to be awarded to people who live in the supervisorial district the project is located in, or within a half mile of the site. Thus, at 55 Laguna, 16 units will be available to seniors who live in District 8, which includes the gay Castro district.

Those District 8 residents not selected will then be placed in the lottery for the other 15 units. According to Openhouse, 400 of the people who apply for the lottery will be picked at random.

Starting in order of their selection, those applicants will be screened to ensure they meet the eligibility requirements before being assigned a unit. Those approved are expected to move into the building by October.

"What is really important for people to take away from this is everyone should apply," said Kilbourn. "It is a way to facilitate people who live in the area to stay in the area; that is the whole purpose, right?"

Over the last three years, Openhouse has seen 1,200 people attend its housing workshops about how the city's lottery system works for allocating affordable senior housing. The agency has compiled a mailing list of 3,300 people interested in 55 Laguna, and an email list of 2,500 people.

"The calls are coming in more than we can handle. The buzz is out there," said Kilbourn, adding that the agency hired an outside firm to help it handle the increased volume.

Openhouse has set a target of getting at least 3,000 LGBT seniors to apply to live at 55 Laguna. While it acknowledges the lottery system can be a "daunting" process, Openhouse is offering assistance to help people fill out the application.

Gay San Francisco resident Ray Rudolph, 65, is one of the seniors who plans to apply. The longtime Openhouse volunteer lives nearby the 55 Laguna site in a rent-controlled apartment and turned down moving to a senior living complex operated by Mercy Housing near Mission Bay.

"I am hoping for 55 Laguna. I would like to give that a shot," said Rudolph, who is HIV-positive, but due to having a home, likely doesn't meet the criteria for the units set aside for seniors living with HIV. "I am hoping that because it is a district preference lottery as well, and I live right around the corner, I am hoping my chances are very good."

Polk Gulch resident Joy Abounds, 66, a lesbian who lives alone in a rent-controlled apartment, also plans to submit an application for one of the 55 Laguna units. But she sees the lottery system as being a gamble and is unsure of her odds.

"Lotteries have not been very successful for me in the past," she said. "I am going to stay positive, and we'll see what happens."

And despite 55 Laguna meant to be for LGBT seniors, Abounds said she expects to be competing in the lottery with many straight seniors. The site, being near several transit lines and just blocks away from two grocery stores, makes it highly desirable, she said.

"I really think a lot of non-LGBT people will be applying for this, I really do," said Abounds.

Kilbourn stressed that the more LGBT people who apply, the better the chances are that the residents at 55 Laguna will be from the LGBT community.

"This is one of those moments where the community turning out, as I know and we all know it can, will really make all the difference," he said.

Wiener agreed, saying he has made it "a very high priority" to alert LGBT seniors about 55 Laguna and how to apply.

"Our LGBT seniors have so many housing needs, and it is very important to me personally that this project have a lot of LGBT seniors living there," he said. "We are aware of our legal obligation to be fair and non-discriminatory and we will comply with the law. We will also make sure LGBT seniors know about the project and how to enter the lottery."

Anyone interested in learning more about the upcoming lottery can join Openhouse's email list by completing the online form at or by calling (415) 530-2783 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. weekdays.