California Today: In San Francisco’s Housing Lottery, It’s the Luck of the Draw

The Natalie Gubb Commons in San Francisco in February. Last fall, 6,580 people applied for 95 apartment units.

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People told Isabel Sanchez that the housing lottery was a waste of time. The odds were too long. Her family would never win. Happy endings are rare in San Francisco’s housing market for anyone who can’t afford luxury rents.

But she and her family were facing a no-fault eviction last fall; the house where they rented an in-law unit had been sold to new owners, who wanted their mother to move in. So Ms. Sanchez applied for the city-run lottery for Natalie Gubb Commons, a new 95-unit affordable housing development downtown open to households making up to 50 percent of the area median income.

Ms. Sanchez and her family were among 6,580 households that applied for the property, whose lottery and aftermath The New York Times chronicled through this spring. Such lotteries are a regular feature of housing policy in high-cost cities. Far more people need — and qualify for — public housing, housing vouchers or below-market-rate apartments than the assistance available. And so cities, housing authorities and developers often dole out what they have by drawing numbers.

Ms. Sanchez pulled No. 16. In April, her family moved into a new three-bedroom apartment renting for a fraction of market rate. That they won the first lottery they ever entered — while some people apply, and fail, for years — shows how utterly random the results are.

Lotteries don’t reward the neediest families, or the most persistent applicants, or those closest to eviction. Although luck still lands on households that fit these descriptions.

The larger problem, in California and elsewhere, is that scarce housing assistance makes these distinctions relevant. In a situation where everyone in need can’t have help, the fairest solution is arguably to set aside the impossible task of deciding who merits help the most, and simply draw winners at random.

California Online
Only about 6 million votes are expected to be cast in the election on June 5.

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• The primaries are in three weeks, but modern history suggests that as many as two-thirds of California’s 20 million registered voters won’t cast their ballots. [The Los Angeles Times]

• As Representative Devin Nunes has escalated his confrontation with law enforcement with demands and threats, Justice Department officials have expressed concern that he is trying to undermine the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s election interference. [The New York Times]

• The next governor will inherit plenty of health policy problems. Here’s where the top six candidates stand on the single-payer system. [San Francisco Chronicle]

• The proposed California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 could be one of the biggest regulatory fights facing the technology industry. [The New York Times]

• President Trump has directed his administration to negotiate with California on a proposed rollback of fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards. [The New York Times]

• The Times’s editorial board looked at how a new center-right party in California could create a potential blueprint for fixing America’s dysfunctional politics. [The New York Times | Op-Ed]

• Some Californians, seeking a more conservative environment, are flocking to Boise. The newcomers could shape Idaho’s politics. [The New York Times]

• A state-funded clinical trial will test whether the “food as medicine” approach of providing nutritious daily meals for low-income, chronically ill people on Medi-Cal could improve their health or lower their medical care costs. [The New York Times]

• A proposed homeless shelter in the heart of Koreatown in Los Angeles has angered residents and business owners, who say they were blindsided by the city. [The Los Angeles Times]

• California passed a historic measure requiring new homes to be equipped with solar power. How will this affect homeowners? [CNBC]

• If you were born in California after 1983, your DNA is most likely being stored by the government. Here’s how that information is being used. [CBS San Francisco]

• This powerful Silicon Valley charity collected billions in donations from figures like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey. Now it’s under scrutiny for the actions of its top executives and the toxic culture that festered there for years. [The New York Times]

• The suspected Golden State Killer watched two men rape his sister when he was a child, which may have fueled his murderous rampage, family members said. [Buzzfeed]

• A 14-year-old student was in custody after a shooting at a high school in Palmdale on Friday. Who was the suspected gunman? [The Los Angeles Times]

• High winds carried a bounce house with a 9-year-old inside onto Highway 395 in San Bernardino County, striking a vehicle and leaving the child with minor injuries. [KTLA]

• The N.B.A.’s Western Conference finals begin Monday with the Golden State Warriors at the Houston Rockets. (Read our preview here.)

• The Contra Costa County Fair begins Thursday and runs through Sunday in Antioch.

And Finally …

Before they came to U.C. Berkeley, Cameron and Tyler Haberman had never been on an airplane. In Visalia, the Central Valley city where the twins grew up, gang fights were the norm and good grades weren’t something to brag about.

The brothers felt like outsiders when they first arrived. But then, slowly, they began to thrive: They joined a fraternity, applied to the university’s Haas School of Business, and learned more about their Cherokee and Muscogee heritage, helping to recruit other Native American students to the university.

Now the Habermans are graduating with honors and heading to Apple, where both will work in finance.

They credited their parents’ sacrifices for helping them to improve their lives and succeed.

“To be the first people in the family to graduate — I don’t think my parents could be more proud,” Tyler Haberman told Berkeley News. “It’s cool to be able to give this to them.”

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