Housing in San Francisco is so bad, there’s a lottery for affordable housing (for real)
Read how one man won the housing lottery for affordable, LGBT-welcoming housing in San Francisco.
Like many long-term residents of San Francisco in rent-controlled units, Jim Doherty hesitated to make a fuss over problems in his Duboce Triangle apartment out of fear that he’d be evicted. His stove and other kitchen appliances were more than 40 years old. His wall heater kept going out, and Jim had started to notice mildew. Rain damage had warped the structure under the floor in his apartment—meaning the floors were buckling and uneven.
“The house was literally sinking into the ground,” said Doherty. “I probably could have sought legal action against my landlord, but I just thought, I want a new place to live.”
Need legal advice or support with housing? Check out the services and agencies listed at the end of this article.
Moving can be a challenge for anyone living in the Bay Area, but especially for people living on a fixed income. To afford the large 1-bedroom Duboce Triangle apartment where he’d lived since 1996, Doherty relied on a rental subsidy from San Francisco AIDS Foundation that helped him offset the cost of his apartment. Every month, his landlord would receive a check from the foundation for a portion of the rent, and a check from Doherty for the rest.
“Without it, I don’t know where I would have been living,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been living here. These subsidies are literally saving people’s lives so they can live here.”
The city of San Francisco estimates that there are over 14,000 low-income people living with HIV in the city who are at-risk for homelessness. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation rental subsidy program (supported by funds from the city) was first established in 1994 to help people likely to pass away soon from HIV or AIDS stay in their apartments until the end. Now, it provides longer-term help—for people living with HIV on a fixed income who struggle to maintain or find affordable housing in the Bay Area.
Read why housing is healthcare, and more about the foundation’s housing and benefits program.
Doherty is a gay man who worked in corporate travel for most of his adult life. Now, he’s retired and on disability—he’s been living with HIV since the early 1980s but wasn’t officially diagnosed until the early 1990s. He has lived in San Francisco for most of his adult life, moving back to the city from the east coast for the support and services the city provides to people living with HIV and the LGBT community.
When he was working, Doherty bounced around the city living in apartments in the Castro, Tenderloin, Lower Nob Hill, and finally Duboce Triangle. The longer he stayed in his rent-controlled Duboce Triangle apartment, and especially once he stopped working, Doherty no longer felt like he had the freedom to leave.
But he got lucky. Last summer, Doherty won a housing lottery for a new property that caters to low- and middle-income LGBT seniors in San Francisco.
“I got the lotto ticket and didn’t think much of it, but it stuck it in my wallet. I thought that the chances of winning the lotto—there’d be no way. And around August first I got the message,” said Doherty.
Demand for units in the property, called Openhouse, far exceed supply, so the nonprofit held a lottery for eligible people last summer. The property opened to residents in the fall of 2016. Doherty moved in to his new apartment in December.
His newly renovated unit features 8-foot windows overlooking Market Street. “It’s beautiful,” he said.
Best of all, the apartment complex caters to older residents. Doherty said he is relieved to know it’s a place where he’ll be safe and supported in the coming years. The building next door will house a senior services agency, with resources to support residents with things like mobility issues, groceries and other social services.
“If I ever needed wheelchair assistance, or to have food brought to me, they could arrange all of that. And everyone here is so friendly. I really feel so lucky. This concept is really revolutionary,” he said.
San Francisco Bay Area Housing Resources
AIDS Legal Referral Panel provides people living with HIV access to free or no-cost volunteer attorneys. The team handles issues related to housing, employment, insurances, credit, wills, power of attorney and more. The ALRP HIV50+ Project provides legal representation to people over 50 years of age. Call 415.701.1100 ext. 314 for housing matters. http://www.alrp.org/our-services/get-legal-help
Just Cause | Causa Justa provides free tenant counseling and case management for low-income residents of Oakland and San Francisco through their Housing Committee/Tenants’ Rights Clinic. They do not have attorneys on staff, but can give advice about your general rights as a tenant. Services available in English and Spanish. https://cjjc.org/tenant-services/
Causa Justa | Just Cause ofrece orientación gratuita a inquilinos y manejo de casos para residentes de bajos recursos en San Francisco en nuestra Clinica de Derechos de Inquilinos/ Comité de Vivienda. No tenemos a abogados en nuestro equipo, pero podemos brindarle asesoría en cuanto a sus derechos en general como inquilino en San Francisco y Oakland. Si tiene problemas con reparaciones, aumentos de renta, desalojos, acoso u otros problemas con su inquilinato, o si necesita asesoría respecto al tema de vivienda justa o discriminación por favor llámenos para poder hacerle una cita. https://cjjc.org/tenant-services/