Openhouse's bait and switch

  • Wednesday June 8, 2016
Share this Post:
Openhouse's bait and switch

Two months ago, we praised Openhouse for its policy allowing LGBT seniors from outside San Francisco to apply for the very limited number of residential units in phase one of its 55 Laguna senior housing complex. As we noted, in recent years, scores of LGBT seniors were priced out of the city, forced to move to less expensive areas, leaving their friends and community behind. Only 39 units will be ready later this year, and of those, just seven will be available to the general public because of various restrictions. Our opinion of this endeavor has always been, "You've got to start somewhere." The Bay Area's LGBT community is aging, and so far Openhouse's housing project is the only affordable one being built. There is a dire need for affordable senior housing, not just for LGBTs, but for everyone.

We were surprised to learn, however, that last week's announcement of the application period included the addition of a fourth preference that will be given to applicants: that is, those living or working in San Francisco. With this added preference, it will be virtually impossible that retired seniors who formerly lived in the city will have a chance of securing one of these affordable apartments. There will be thousands of applicants for a handful of units, and it's likely that all of the prospective tenants will meet the preferred criteria, which also includes having a Certificate of Preference from San Francisco's former Redevelopment Agency; a Displaced Tenant Housing Certificate from the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development; and a neighborhood resident housing preference for the 16 units set aside for people who live in District 8 or within a half-mile of 55 Laguna.

Openhouse's bait and switch occurs during a period of transition for the agency " it's currently searching for a new permanent executive director " but it is deeply disappointing. Former Executive Director Seth Kilbourn was clear with us two months ago that it was his decision to allow non-San Franciscans to apply for the units, precisely because so many LGBT seniors had been displaced. For those seniors seeking to return to the city, the added preference amounts to being shut out again. And lest anyone agree that 55 Laguna should only be for city residents " you could be next if you're forced from the city due to escalating rent and future affordable housing projects give preference to San Franciscans, whether they're for seniors or others.

And once again, we see an LGBT nonprofit struggling with transparency. There was no separate communication alerting applicants to the fact that this major change had been made, nor any indication of who made it or its implications. This week we were told by Openhouse's interim executive director, Tim Daniels, that the decision came from the mayor's housing office and Openhouse had nothing to do with it. And in fact, a staff member there did confirm that the residency preference is the office's standard option for projects that don't receive federal funding. It's apparent that Openhouse's leadership vacuum allowed the city's housing office to step in and opt for this residency preference, changing the organization's previous policy. The added preference was tacked on to the other three in a statement sent out too late for last week's Bay Area Reporter. With the application process having started Wednesday, June 8 and only eight days to apply, this change must have been made prior to the June 3 announcement by Openhouse. Too bad it wasn't clearly explained to the LGBT senior community sooner.

We realize that we're talking about a very small number of affordable senior apartments. There are also other factors to consider, such as non-discrimination laws that enjoin Openhouse to open the lottery to LGBT and straight seniors alike, as long as they meet all the requirements. (So in theory it's possible, though unlikely, that no LGBT seniors will get units at 55 Laguna.) But we believe that Openhouse should have been more forthcoming regarding changing the city residency preference. Seniors, whether they're gay or not, have enough hoops to jump through for scarce affordable housing units. Last week's dramatic switch in the 55 Laguna project added another one.