Lottery No more

San Francisco modernizes its affordable housing lottery process

Architecture City Terrain West
San Francisco has reformed its affordable housing lottery process by creating a new online portal. (Courtesy Jared Erondu)
San Francisco has reformed its affordable housing lottery process by creating a new online portal. (Courtesy Jared Erondu)

While we may live in Dickensian times, San Francisco has taken a small but important step toward humanizing the process by which qualifying individuals and families can apply to be considered for the city’s affordable housing lottery.

Previously, San Francisco’s Office of Housing required would-be affordable housing dwellers to fill out hefty applications and apply in person at each specific housing development, only to watch on as numbered strips of paper were randomly picked out from a big box. The order in which numbers were selected would dictate the line of potential housing recipients. The process was cumbersome to say the least. The San Francisco Examiner reports that at a recent lottery for 60 available units in the Dalt Hotel in the city’s Tenderloin district drew 615 numbers out of several thousand applications submitted.  

The carnivalesque and inhumane spectacle—San Francisco’s median rent recently fell slightly, but remains sky-high at a stunning $3,370 per month—is being replaced by the new Database of Affordable Housing Listings, Information, and Applications (DAHLIA) system. The new method was developed with help from Google and Salesforce and consists of an online portal that allows would-be residents to apply not only to multiple housing listings but also allows applicants to find out whether they have been selected via phone or computer.

Barry Roeder, an official with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing, told the Examiner, “the big bin has gone away. No more carnival tickets and things like that. You can, in ten minutes, apply from your smartphone to a listing that you want. It pops up and tells you what your lottery number is and sends you an email with it. Within minutes of the completion of a public lottery, enter that number in DAHLIA again and it shows you exactly what your rank was in the lottery.”

The new system is currently operational for all below-market rate listings generated by private developers as part of the city’s inclusionary zoning laws. Applications for affordable units developed by non-profit housing developers should become available within the next month.

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