Investing in Housing For Seniors

London Breed
5 min readDec 6, 2019

Housing is simply not affordable for many San Franciscans, and for seniors living on fixed incomes, affording rent can be especially challenging and stressful. In 2016, more than half of renters over 65 living in the San Francisco area experienced either moderate or severe housing cost burden, while individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) would have to pay about 150% of their SSI income to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. When housing is so expensive, there’s often little left over to afford food, health care, transportation, and other necessities.

Mayor Breed with resident of affordable housing acquired through the Small Sites Program

We need to support seniors in San Francisco and make sure they can continue to live here. Nearly 30% of San Francisco residents will be 60 or older by 2030, and as our population ages, services for seniors will become increasingly important.

That’s why we have City programs to help seniors afford their rent, and why we’re working to build more housing throughout the city. It’s also why we created the Dignity Fund, so that we have a dedicated source of funding to support seniors and adults with disabilities so that they are able to live with dignity, independence, and good health in their homes and communities.

We have several ongoing and new senior rental subsidy programs as well as 2019 Proposition A, which voters recently approved, that will provide new funding for the creation of affordable senior housing. At the end of the day, we need to build more housing, and I’m committed to cutting the red tape that is getting in the way of our housing goals.

Mayor Breed with residents of Lady Shaw Senior Center in Chinatown

Housing Subsidies

The City budget for 2019–20 and 2020–21 includes $7 million in new funding for housing subsidies for seniors.

$2 million for a two-year pilot program to provide rental subsidies for about 150 low-income households of seniors and adults with disabilities. The Department of Disability and Aging Services is working to distribute the subsidies to people with the help of two organizations, Self-Help for the Elderly and the Q Foundation.

$5 million in new funding will make housing more affordable at senior housing sites. $2 million of this new funding will serve about 40 extremely low-income seniors moving into 1296 Shotwell, an 100% affordable housing project in the Mission District. About half of the subsidies are for seniors at 15% Area Median Income (AMI), and half for seniors at 25% AMI.

In addition to this new funding, we have existing rental subsidies for seniors provided by the Dignity Fund and the Community Living Fund. The budget for 2019–20 provides about $6 million in rental subsidies for seniors, which serves around 370 households.

In October last year, I announced an investment of $1.5 million to make housing in the City’s Northeast Waterfront, near Chinatown, even more affordable to extremely low-income seniors. The funding reduced the rents in half for 13 units of senior housing in the 88 Broadway St. and 735 Davis St. housing developments, making it possible for people to stay in their homes.

Mayor Breed at recently reopened Ellis Gardens affordable housing development

Affordable Housing Bond

We need more senior housing and the Affordable Housing Bond will help us get there. Proposition A, which I advocated for along with Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, includes $150 million for new affordable senior housing rental opportunities. This housing will serve seniors on fixed incomes earning from 0% to 80% of AMI who are especially vulnerable in San Francisco’s housing market.

In total, the $600 million Affordable Housing Bond will enable ~2,800 units of affordable housing to start construction in the next four years. These projects would serve vulnerable residents, including seniors, formerly homeless individuals, veterans, families, and educators.

Need for More Housing

We know that housing subsidies are only one part of the solution. We need more housing, and we need it now. Bureaucratic processes have drastically slowed the creation of new affordable housing by increasing construction costs, in addition to zoning regulations that make it difficult to build affordable housing in areas where it is sorely needed (e.g. along transit, in residential neighborhoods, etc.). We are working to streamline permitting and building processes so we can build more affordable and market-rate housing.

Accessory Dwelling Units

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), or in-law units, are an important tool for building more housing, especially new rent-controlled housing. They are especially important for seniors, since they are often on the ground floor and are more accessible to people with limited mobility.

That’s why I issued an Executive Directive to accelerate the approvals of ADUs and clear the backlog of applications. As a result of the Directive, the City has now permitted over 1,000 ADUs, and has tripled the rate of its ADU construction. I also introduced legislation waiving certain building inspection fees for ADUs and 100% affordable housing to make it less expensive to build ADUs and affordable housing.

Senate Bill 50

I support Senator Scott Wiener’s legislation, Senate Bill (SB) 50, which is critical for addressing the housing affordability crisis and making it more affordable for seniors to live in San Francisco. The AARP has endorsed SB 50, because they recognize that the only way to make housing more affordable for seniors is to make it easier to build denser, transit-oriented housing.

I am committed to making housing in San Francisco more affordable for everyone, including our seniors, who are especially vulnerable to rising rents. Housing subsidies are an important part of our efforts to keep people housed and in the neighborhoods they call home, and at the same time, we must also remain focused on creating more housing for seniors and all San Franciscans.