Frequently Asked Questions

What are the types of affordable housing in San Francisco?

  • Rent-controlled housing: Privately-owned multifamily buildings built before 1979 have rent-control, meaning landlords can only raise the rent by a small amount per year.
  • Section 8 housing: The federal government will pay the balance of a rent payment that exceeds 30% of a renter’s monthly income. There are 2 kinds of Section 8: 1) Project-based: the subsidy is for the building and 2) Voucher: the subsidy belongs to the person. The waitlist for Section 8 in San Francisco is currently closed.
  • Permanently affordable rentals: Developed mostly by nonprofits and are rentals only. The entire building is affordable housing and will stay affordable even when people move out.
  • Small site rentals: Nonprofit organizations can buy residential buildings and convert them to permanently affordable housing. The existing tenants can stay.
  • BMR Homeownership: There are below market rate homes available for purchase. Only for first-time homebuyers, and you have to complete a homebuyer education course.
  • BMR rentals: Developers are required to sell or rent a percentage of the units in new developments at a price that is affordable to lower or middle income households. Most in high rise, luxury towers. BiSHoP mainly helps people apply for BMRs or other kinds of affordable housings listed on the DAHLIA website.

How do I find affordable housing outside San Francisco?

Openhouse has a housing list on their website that is updated to show currently available affordable housing in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Mateo Counties. You can find their list here

What is a Below Market Rate (BMR) unit?

The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development’s (MOHCD) BMR program also known as Inclusionary Housing Program, requires developers to sell or rent a percentage of the units in new developments at a price that is affordable to lower or middle income households. Specifically, BMR units are priced based on the Area Median Income (AMI).

To be eligible to purchase or rent a BMR unit, a household must meet specific income requirements. The application process for BMR units is done through lottery. You can learn about new BMR opportunities through postings listed on:

What is the Area Median Income (AMI)?

Each year, the federal government calculates the median income for cities. The AMI is used by cities to set rent prices for each unit type and to set income requirements by household size. For example, if a BMR unit in San Francisco is priced at 50% AMI that means a 1-person household’s gross annual income should not exceed $41,450 (2018) to be eligible to apply.

Why is there a lottery process for BMR housing and how does it work?

Thousands of people apply for affordable housing each year. In order to ensure there is no violation of the Fair Housing Act, which is a federal act intended to protect renters from landlord discrimination, cities will administer lotteries to create a randomized order for leasing agents to review applications. Sometimes there are lotteries to be placed on a housing waitlist.

When you submit an application, it is assigned a lottery ticket number. On the date of the lottery, MOHCD and the project sponsor will use a computer program to generate a random rank for each lottery number that has been assigned.The lower the rank, the better the chance the applicant has of getting housed.

In San Francisco, there are preferences within the lottery that prioritize certain groups to have their application reviewed: Certificate of Preference, Displacement Tenant Housing Preference, Rent Burdened and Assisted Housing Residents, Neighborhood Resident Housing Preference, Live/Work Preference. Please note that even if you qualify for one or more lottery preferences, you still have to be income qualified and meet other resident selection criteria set by developments. Additionally, not all these preferences are available for each housing development.

What is a housing waiting list?

A waiting list for affordable housing means that there are no current openings for a particular development, but once a unit becomes available developers will contact the applicants who were placed on the list. In San Francisco, the public housing waiting list is run by the San Francisco Housing Authority, which opens their list every 10 years. Individual properties run by private or nonprofit developers may have open waitlists, you will just need to contact developers individually for the application process. Unfortunately, it is hard to say how long waiting lists will take because it is dependent on when other tenants leave and the types of units available. Some waiting lists have priorities such as homeless, veterans, rent-burdened families, etc. Also, some waitlists expire after a certain length of time and applicants will need to re-submit their application.

As a renter, what are some housing costs I should consider?

  • Monthly costs can include: rent payments, utility payments, renter’s insurance, parking expenses, and commute costs.
  • One-time costs can include: security deposit (generally 1-3 times the rent), relocation expenses, application, credit report fee, and pet deposit.

What is a security deposit?

A security deposit is a landlord’s way of guaranteeing that he or she will be compensated for any damages that may occur while a tenant is living on the property. The amount of this deposit is usually around one month and a half’s worth of rent, but it can be more.

What if I cannot afford my rent?

The following organizations provide rental subsidies for individuals and families who need assistance in paying for their rent, security deposits, and other housing costs. Please contact each organization individually to inquire about their application process and requirements. Some organizations only assist clients referred by a case manager.

What if I have bad credit?

BALANCE offers a Debt Management Plan, and is committed to providing comprehensive money management education and counseling. To speak with a counselor, call toll-free 1-800.777.PLAN (7526). Monday–Thursday 7:30 AM–6 PM, Friday 7:30 AM–5 PM, Saturday 9 AM–2 PM (Pacific Time)