Residents begin moving into 55 Laguna project
by Matthew S. Bajko
The first residents of a $16 million San Francisco affordable housing development intended for LGBT seniors began moving into their apartments this week, a month later than initially expected.
The project, a joint venture between Openhouse, the LGBT senior services agency, and Mercy Housing California, which develops below-market-rate housing, is rehabilitating the former college building known as Richardson Hall, located at 55 Laguna Street a block from the LGBT Community Center.
There will be a total of 40 residential units in the building, with one set aside for a resident manager. The remodel was slated to be complete by September with the first residents moving into their units in October, but construction delays pushed that timeline back.
Eight units at 55 Laguna were set aside for people aged 55 or older who are living with HIV or AIDS at risk of homelessness. The city's human services agency was responsible for referring potential residents through a separate selection process, and as of Tuesday, four of those households had yet to receive their final approval to move in.
In July the city held a lottery to select the inhabitants of the other 31 rooms, which vary in size from studios to two-bedrooms. More than 1,800 people applied to live there, and due to anti-discrimination laws, the city could not restrict the lottery to solely LGBT seniors.
As for how many of the people chosen through the lottery to live in the building identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, more than 60 percent do, according to Mercy Housing. Many lottery applicants chose to state their LGBT status on their application forms, while others have disclosed that information during the approval process.
"We always understood the ideal was to have a resident population sort of primarily LGBT seniors to benefit from the services model but it would not necessarily be 100 percent. It would be a mixed community like all of San Francisco," said Sharon Christen, a housing developer with Mercy's San Francisco regional office. "We think we achieved that."
Tim Daniels, Openhouse's interim executive director, could not be reached for comment this week. But in a brief email to the B.A.R. last week, he wrote that residents are starting to move into 55 Laguna and will continue to do so over the coming weeks.
"The residents are slowly moving in the week of November 14th and the goal is to have all residents in the new building by the end of the year; Mercy is managing all of this," wrote Daniels.
Christen said most of the residents are expected to move into their apartments either the week after Thanksgiving or in early December. Mercy is still working to approve the final eight households for the 31 units chosen through the lottery, she said.
"A lot of people who applied chose not to further the application process, some because they were not ready to move. Others who had applied only did so because they wanted to show there was a need for LGBT-focused elder housing," said Christen.
Brian Basinger, co-founder of San Francisco's Q Foundation who had fought to see the 55 Laguna project be set aside for low-income LGBT and HIV-positive seniors, said that he had yet to hear that any of his foundation's clients of its AIDS housing programs had been picked to move into the building.
"No one has showed up on my doorstep asking for a move-in deposit, which they normally do," Basinger told the B.A.R. Tuesday afternoon.
As for Openhouse, it expects to start moving into its new offices in the building, which total 2,700 square feet with the address of 65 Laguna Street, Monday, November 21.
Due to a $1 million donation from the Bob Ross Foundation that was announced at the beginning of the year, the agency's new community facilities will be named the Bob Ross LGBT Senior Center in honor of the B.A.R. 's founding publisher.
The relocation of the staff from their temporary space in the Castro could be delayed, however, as Daniels stressed, "much work is still needed on the building."
He added that the builders and officials with Mercy and Openhouse are "all stressed these days" with ensuring all of the construction is complete by the end of the year. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will likely take place in late January or early February.
The B.A.R.'s request to see the current state of the building's interior was denied, as Daniels explained that Openhouse has "been asked not to do any tours at this point until all the construction punch lists are complete, sometime in mid-December."
Construction of the $40 million project's second phase, a new building with 79 units of affordable senior housing to be built on what is now a surface parking lot, should break ground next year. Fourteen of those units will be set aside for seniors age 62 or older living with HIV or AIDS at risk of homelessness, and one will be slated for a resident manager.
Applications to apply to live in the building, which will have an address of 95 Laguna, should be made available sometime in 2017, according to Openhouse. The lottery to select the residents for the units likely will be held sometime in 2018. It is expected the same rules that governed this year's lottery process will apply then.
City officials had taken a number of steps aimed at giving LGBT seniors an advantage in the lottery for 55 Laguna. They reduced the window to apply down to roughly two weeks from the usual 30 days.
They also set aside 16 of the units for people who either live in District 8, which includes the gay Castro neighborhood, or within a half mile of the project. Falling into that category was 382 applicants.
People who live or work in San Francisco were also given preference for the units, making it near impossible for people with no current ties to the city to be selected. Applicants in this group totaled 1,361.
According to the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, which oversaw the lottery process, 13 of the applicants fell under the first preference category for people who were displaced from their homes in the city during the 1960s and 1970s.
Another 16 applicants fell into the second preference category for eight of the units earmarked for people who have more recently been forced out of their homes due to an Ellis Act or owner move in eviction.
According to Openhouse, everyone who applied for 55 Laguna should have received a postcard in August detailing their waitlist status if they were not chosen to be among the first residents of the project. As vacancies in the building become available, those on the wait list will be contacted in order to see if they qualify to move into the units.