Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee at a rally for affordable senior housing in front of City Hall on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

New subsidy program could make senior housing more affordable

Proposal by Board President Norman Yee would affect units currently in pipeline

Board of Supervisors president Norman Yee announced a plan Wednesday to make below-market rate senior housing more affordable to those with lower incomes in time to impact more than 100 units in the pipeline.

Standing with senior advocates on the steps of City Hall, Yee said he plans to introduce legislation as early as next week that would create a Senior Operating Subsidy, or S.O.S., demonstration program to provide subsidies to lower rents for senior housing that is expected to become available in the next three years.

“Not only are we not building enough housing for seniors, but they are clearly unable to afford it,” Yee said. “We need to ensure that seniors are actually able to live in these affordable units we are building.”

The Dignity Fund Coalition, a collection of nonprofits providing senior and disabled services, called for the program to ensure that seniors can qualify and afford to live in upcoming senior housing developments funded by the city.

Many seniors are either ineligible to apply for affordable senior units due to minimum income requirements, or if they do make the cut they end up paying up to 60 or 70 percent of their income on rent.

“Seniors across the city continue to be severely impacted by the city’ housing crisis,” said Marie Jobling, of the Dignity Fund Coalition. “We all know people who are just barely hanging on. There is a need to build more senior housing. But it is not enough unless we work to make it truly affordable. Our affordable housing program is unaffordable for a majority of the seniors here in this city.”

The proposal would create a special fund to provide rent subsidies to help seniors with lower incomes to afford to live in below-market rate senior housing developments.

By creating the program through legislation, Yee intends to ensure there an initial $5 million placed into it during the budget process in time to impact rents for 130 senior housing units under construction or in the planning stages to make them affordable to seniors earning less than 30 percent of the area median income, which for a single person is $25,850.

The fund would have the effect of changing the formula at which rents and income requirements are currently set for city-backed senior housing projects.

For example, the general rent setting for below-rate housing for a single person sets the rent at what’s affordable to someone earning 50 percent of area median income, $43,100 a year. For a studio that rent would be $1,078.

The median income for seniors living alone in San Francisco is under $23,000, while most senior renters earn less than $18,000, according to information provided by Yee.

But by providing a deeper subsidy, Yee’s proposal would bring rents as low as $271 and $616 a month for a studio and one bedroom, affordable to those earning 15 to 25 percent of area median income.

“This program will lower the cost of a unit to meet seniors where they are,” Yee said. “This program is a start to a more thoughtful strategy on how we can support our aging population before it is too late.”

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