San Francisco is failing non-English speaking residents in need of below-market-rate housing, especially those who need their application forms translated. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)

Affordable housing opportunities limited for non-English speakers

My first year in office, I was approached by a constituent — homeless, using a wheelchair and in extremely ill health — who was overwhelmed with such hopelessness that he was contemplating taking his own life. My team worked with him and his housing counselor and on my re-election night, he won a below-market-rate unit in the Rincon Hill neighborhood.

He credits winning affordable housing with saving his life. He is healthy and safe in a home he now shares with his caregiver — a home that gave him hope that life is still worth living.

His story is the face of the value of affordable housing. It is about more than just a bed to sleep in or a roof over one’s head. It’s about health, dignity and security. It is a value that our city has recognized through the recent commitments we’ve made to expand the availability of affordable housing for more San Francisco residents.

Unfortunately, there are too many in our community who are still being denied equal opportunity to housing. In a city that is strengthened by our diversity and inclusion, we need to be sure that the processes we put in place are opening doors instead of closing them.

I was troubled to learn The City has made inadequate progress addressing policies governing inclusionary home ownership and rental units in the below-market-rate housing program, making it difficult for people to take advantage of the opportunities for which they are eligible. Specifically, The City has yet to remove unnecessary barriers that exist for members of our community who do not speak English proficiently.

This is an issue I raised as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in a November 2014 hearing on below-market-rate policies. During that hearing, I was surprised to discover that our application process is inaccessible to large swaths of our community, including a failure to translate the application form into languages used by more than 10 percent of our city’s population as their first language.

At that hearing, I was assured that the Database of Affordable Housing Listing Information and Applications would streamline the inclusionary listings and simplify the application process, including providing translated application forms in Chinese, Tagalog and Spanish. In addition, I was advised there would be systemic reform and uniformity imposed on marketing standards and tenant selection criteria across all of the programs overseen by the Mayor’s Office on Housing.

Individuals and families who are eligible for this program, but who may not be fluent in English, are still not receiving the support they need. Completing an application is just the first step, and yet hundreds of applicants are denied off the bat because they don’t understand the eligibility requirements or simply fill out a line or two on their application incorrectly.

With hundreds of below-market-rate housing units on the way, it is critical that we address these issues with a fair and consistent application process. I have called for a hearing on The City’s progress in developing a simpler and more accessible affordable housing application procedure that is linguistically and culturally competent.

The chance to afford a home can mean a chance to turn one’s life around. We need to be sure that opportunity exists for every member of our community.

Jane Kim represents District 6 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

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