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Tenants Complain S.F. Affordable Rental Program Lets Landlords Play Favorites

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- A few months ago, KPIX exposed cheaters taking advantage of San Francisco's affordable housing ownership program. Now we're discovering there are numerous complaints about the city's affordable rental program as well.

"If you're going to do an affordable housing program you might as well do it right," said David Osgood, president of the tenants association in a luxury high-rise near San Francisco's waterfront called Carmel Rincon.

Seventy-six apartments in Carmel Rincon are what are known as below market rate units or BMR. They're part of the city's affordable housing program.

While market-rate apartments in the building get luxury upgrades, Osgood says BMR units are neglected, even though rents are rising. Osgood relayed a rumor that: "in the past employees have been placed into below market rate units," he said.

There is supposed to be a waiting list for the affordable units, which are in high demand due to the housing crisis.

"Did the employees wait?" Osgood wonders. "That information is concealed from us so we don't know how fair it is. There's certainly stories about people jumping ahead," he said.

BMR renters aren't the only ones complaining. BMR landlords in San Francisco aren't happy either.

"It's a disservice to all parties involved," said Vanessa Khaleel, who is with the San Francisco Apartment Association.

Kahleel says hundreds of BMRs are currently available for rent but are not occupied.

"The program was designed to get affordable housing to hard-working people -- teachers, firefighters -- not to sit empty. Our owners want these units filled," she said.

She blames red tape at City Hall.

"It can take months to get somebody qualified and then moved in. In some cases we have owners who have had units vacant for six months," said Khaleel.

According to city records, 291 BMR apartments were available for rent last year. Of those, 198 are occupied. That's only 68 percent, even though more than 50,000 people applied.

"Are we perfect, no. But we have made great strides in recent years," said Kate Hartley, director of the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development.

"Sometimes it might seem like it takes much too long but there's actually a lot of work to make sure that people are getting into the right units and that they are eligible for those units," she said.

Hartley says the city's new online portal for BMR rentals, called Dahlia, has streamlined the application process. But we heard the system is still too slow, too cumbersome, discriminatory, and unfair and we asked Hartley about that. Her response: "This program is so important and it's so great and it works beautifully 98 percent to 99 percent of the time. There are problems that occur, just as there are problems in the private building stock."

As for prior rumors of favoritism at Carmel Rincon: "The Carmel Rincon building was in the category of older buildings that came to my office through the redevelopment agency," Hartley said.

She says the city has no direct control over that building or other older affordable housing stock.

"The developer was allowed to keep the waiting list themselves and just work through the waiting list on their own," she said

In a statement, Carmel Rincon's management company told KPIX: "We are proud to participate in the BMR program that offers affordable housing for many in the San Francisco area and operate all BMR units in compliance with the housing program guidelines."

Dave Osgood doesn't buy it.

"The city likes to talk a lot about these programs and every time they create one it gets a lot of attention but no one comes back after a while to see how it's going," he said.

For affordable rentals offered directly through the Mayors Office of Housing's inclusionary program it's a lottery system, and each building has its own separate lottery. You can sign up for alerts at

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