Federal Officials Approve Preferences at New Senior Housing Complex in S.F.

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Franklin Hickman, 71, in front of the Willie B. Kennedy Apartments. Hickman says his health has improved since he moved in last month after being homeless for nearly five years. (Matt Beagle/KQED)

San Francisco officials are applauding the Obama administration's decision to approve a preference-based city program aimed at slowing displacement of residents at risk of losing their housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Wednesday that it would support an "anti-displacement" preference for federally funded affordable housing for the elderly in the city's Western Addition.

"This is important progress in our efforts to halt the displacement of residents at greatest risk of being forced out of the city they know and love," said Mayor Ed Lee. "This will thwart the outmigration of African-American and Latino communities who have been deeply impacted by the challenging housing market."

Forty percent of the units at the Willie B. Kennedy Apartments -- a 98-unit development for senior citizens -- will be available to low-income residents who live in city census tracts under high risk of displacement pressure, said London Breed, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

"We got something I believe that's going to be just as good and just as effective at making sure that the people who live here have a real shot," said Breed at a press conference Thursday.


Local politicians, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, had pressured HUD to reconsider its initial decision in August to not support a neighborhood preference plan -- a move that Breed called a "devastating blow."

The initial plan would have given priority to low-income and minority residents of the Western Addition neighborhood. HUD said it could not support neighborhood-based preference and that it would violate the Fair Housing Act. Instead, HUD decided to consider an alternative that opens preference to residents elsewhere in the city, too.

"I hope that the anti-displacement strategy developed by HUD and San Francisco will serve as a model for other California cities facing similar affordable housing and gentrification challenges," Feinstein said.

But Pelosi, who called the deal an achievement, reiterated the importance of the Neighborhood Resident Housing Preference program.

"The new anti-displacement strategy represents an important step forward for our communities," said Pelosi. "However, preserving the principle of neighborhood preference will be essential in protecting the rights of local residents to remain in their community. In San Francisco, the beauty is in the mix. We must ensure strong, thriving African-American and Latino communities always remain a part of the vibrant fabric of our city."

The Willie B. Kennedy development is partially funded by HUD.

Ted Goldberg contributed to this report