Affordable Housing Crunch Prompts Lotteries

May 14, 2018

The affordability crisis is growing in San Francisco, and home buyers are desperate to find a place that they can afford. An affordable housing development in downtown is offering 95 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. But the development recently made headlines when 6,580 people applied for the homes in just three weeks. Developers turned to a lottery to decide who would get the units. 

Developers and cities are increasingly turning to lotteries to award affordable housing, due to the skyrocketing demand and trying to come up with a solution that seems fair in awarding the units than on a first-come, first-served basis. But critics say that lotteries are awarded at random chance and don’t distinguish between the neediest from the merely needy, The New York Times reports. 

The Natalie Grubb Commons in San Francisco was reserved for households with incomes up to 50 percent of the local median. The median existing single-family home price in the San Francisco metro area is $917,000. San Francisco has conducted public lotteries for years and recently has moved the process online. 

“Please don’t give up, please keep trying, and please know that sometimes people have to apply several times before they get offered a unit,” Maria Benjamin, who runs several of the city’s affordable housing programs and the lotteries, announced before the Natalie Gubb Commons lottery. 

Affordable housing projects are becoming more difficult to build with dwindling federal support and rising construction costs, The New York Times reports. Further, the stock of public housing continues to shrink as older units deteriorate. 

Housing lotteries are “a simple manifestation—and apparently an unavoidable one—of the fact that we have never in America made affordable housing a right,” Kirk McClure, a professor of urban planning at the University of Kansas, told The New York Times.

Patricia Torres and her family have been desperately looking for an affordable property for the past two years in San Francisco. But in the latest lottery for Natalie Grubbs Commons, she drew an 824. Any number in the top 200 had the best chances, they were told. 

“What am I waiting for?” Torres told The New York Times. “How can I keep waiting? Why? So that it will get more and more expensive, and possibly I won’t find anything?”

Source: “These 95 Apartments Promised Affordable Rent in San Francisco. Then 6,580 People Applied,” The New York Times (May 12, 2018)