Most ‘affordable’ senior housing being built is unaffordable to a majority of seniors who need housing. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

The City’s unaffordable ‘affordable’ senior housing system must change

As elder San Franciscans we join together to bring attention to an inconvenient truth about so-called ‘affordable’ senior housing in San Francisco. The truth is that most ‘affordable’ senior housing being built is unaffordable to a majority of seniors who need housing.

The city policies and practices that have created these barriers must be changed.

A recently opened senior housing development on Laguna Street stands as an example of The City’s disappointing approach to senior housing. According the city’s announcement, the lowest rent at the building is $1,000 a month. This may not seem like a huge amount in today’s increasingly affluent San Francisco. But for tens of thousands of seniors this is an impossible sum. According to a recent report published by the city, the median income for a single senior is only $1,825 a month. Based upon HUD standards (rents should not exceed 30 percent of income) maximum rents even for middle income seniors should be $547 a month. Lower income seniors need even lower rents.

Why does the city set ‘affordable’ senior rents higher than what most can pay? The problem, we have learned, is that the city sets affordable rents for seniors based upon the same formula that it determines affordability for younger residents. This makes no sense because the overall median income for a single person is $6,900 a month — more than four times higher than the median for seniors.

City policies ignore this inherently unequal reality. While some seniors may be able to continue to work into their seventies, most of us are retired and cannot return to the workforce because of health and other challenges. We must rely on fixed incomes and ever shrinking savings to survive.

The city’s housing policies and priorities also do not reflect the others challenges faced by seniors. The housing crisis has made seniors more vulnerable to displacement and made it harder for them to find appropriate housing. Long time senior tenants are too often targeted for evictions by speculators and landlords. And we hear repeated accounts by other seniors looking for housing being told by landlords that they are looking for younger workers and students who can afford higher rents.

For these reasons we believe it is time for San Francisco’s affordable housing programs and policies to change and reflect the reality of senior incomes and needs. For many seniors, the possibility of qualifying for affordable and accessible senior housing is our only hope to remain in a city in which we labored and still love. Until San Francisco changes its policies and practices most seniors will continue to be left behind.

Betty Traynor is the President of the Board of Senior and Disability Action. Wing Hoo Leung is the President of the Community Tenants Association.

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