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San Francisco ditches affordable rental lotteries, opens web portal instead

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Carnival-like system of drawing names out of a box for housing abandoned

Renderings of a large, glass-encased building on Mission Street.
The deadline is today for a few subsidized leases at 1400 Mission.
Courtesy 1400 Mission

For years, San Francisco subjected families angling to get in on below-market-rent (BMR) rentals from the Mayor’s Office of Housing to a literal lottery drawing, pulling numbers out of a box while anxious hopefuls looked on with fingers crossed.

The process could be something of an ordeal in and of itself. KALW reported on one such drawing last year:

In the auditorium, the lottery proceeds at a hypnotic pace. A woman pats a fussy baby on the back. A man takes his toddler daughter for a walk up and down the aisle. People shift in their seats. And yet, each seven-digit number wields tremendous power.

Even though there are only 91 apartments available, they’ll call a thousand numbers today. That’s in case people at the top of the list don’t actually qualify for some reason. [...]

Nearby, Gloria Mendoza is losing her patience. She had to step out and now she doesn’t know if her number’s been called.

“The guy right here in the front said that they don't go backwards on the numbers, so I'm not sure,” she explains. “I had to go move my daughter’s car so I'm still like, backed up now.”

Now the San Francisco Examiner reports that the city has finally retired this primitive spectacle in favor of a streamlined and hopefully less strenuous electronic portal. “The big bin has gone away,” Barry Roeder with the Mayor’s Office of Housing told the paper.

Applications for 900 Folsom are due May 11.
Courtesy Essex Apartments

In a presentation to the city last year, Roeder noted that the lottery system was “a lot of work for slight chance” of winning a home and that applying meant maneuvering “confusing terminology.”

Under the new system, dubbed DAHLIA (Database of Affordable Housing Listings, Information, and Applications), lottery results post to a city website instead.

Would-be applicants can fill out a two-question form to find out if they qualify for any upcoming drawings, and applying takes roughly 15 minutes. Paper applications are still available for the non-computer savvy.

“DAHLIA will streamline the application process and make it easier for COP holders and other seeking affordable housing,” City Hall promised in last year’s affordable housing report.

Of course, none of this improves the odds of actually winning, which is all most applicants are really interested in. But at least nobody will be subjected to waiting on the “big bin” to decided their fate anymore.