The New York Times: These 95 apartments promised affordable rent in San Francisco. Then 6,580 people applied.

The New York Times, May 12, 2018: These 95 apartments promised affordable rent in San Francisco. Then 6,580 people applied.

For each, San Francisco’s housing crisis had meant living without essential elements of home. A large affordable housing development rising downtown promised what they did not have: 95 complete homes, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments with privacy, a sense of peace, a place to cook.

The development, Natalie Gubb Commons, was reserved for households with incomes up to 50 percent of the local median. The applications were open for three weeks last fall, and 6,580 households applied for a chance to rent there, or nearly 70 for each unit.

With affordable housing scarce and likely to grow more so, San Francisco planned to draw winners for Natalie Gubb Commons at random.

Subsidized housing is often rationed this way, by lottery. Many apply, few win, most are disappointed. The process is meant to be more fair than first-come, first-served. But lotteries make literal a deeper unfairness. For homeowners, the mortgage interest deduction is available to anyone who qualifies. For poor renters, there is never enough housing assistance to go around.

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