The Foon Lok West affordable housing complex is part of the new Brooklyn Basin housing project of Oakland. Brooklyn Basin has added over 1,000 homes to the new neighborhood along the city’s waterfront and plans to add 2,000 more. (Kori Suzuki/KQED)
A new online tool offers Bay Area residents a way to find and apply for affordable housing listings in the region.
Housing advocates have for years been pushing for a tool like this that covers the entire state, says Damion Scott, a community organizer with the East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO), a nonprofit aimed at increasing access to affordable housing for lower-income communities. But even having this type of tool available for just the Bay Area makes Scott and his colleagues “really excited.”
Scott says that based on his personal experience working with folks seeking affordable housing in the East Bay, “having a portal — having somewhere where they can find affordable housing not just from one developer, or just from one city or one county, but really a regional portal — would really be able to help them.”
But while the new Doorway tool provides a single platform to access affordable housing listings, there are certain things to know about how it works — and who still won’t be able to use it to find affordable housing.
Keep reading for what to know about the Doorway Housing Portal, how to fill out an application to live in an affordable housing unit or how to join a waitlist for a property and your options for finding affordable housing if this new online tool doesn’t end up working for you.
How does the Doorway Housing Portal work?
BAHFA, the organization behind the tool, says these listings are “verified opportunities for active housing vacancies and waitlists.” The site is currently available in five languages: English, traditional Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese and Tagalog. You can use it on a desktop computer or your mobile phone.
When you click on a listing, you’ll see further information about that property, including how to apply, the leasing agent’s contact details, and eligibility criteria. These criteria will include the minimum and maximum income required for a household applying for the listing, deposit information, who gets preference for that unit, and what kinds of rental assistance programs (like Section 8 vouchers) will be considered.
Wondering why the tool doesn’t show listings for affordable housing in San Francisco? That’s because the city already has its own version of an affordable housing portal, called DAHLIA: San Francisco Housing Portal.
A Doorway spokesperson said that the BAHFA doesn’t have a specific timeline for integrating DAHLIA, which would “remain a standalone portal for now.” So for now, if you want to see affordable housing listings for San Francisco, use the city’s own DAHLIA tool.
How does the Doorway Housing Portal define ‘affordable housing’?
You’ll notice that each housing listing on Doorway has a minimum-income requirement — that is, the amount of money that your household needs to be making in total, per year, before taxes (your gross income) to be eligible to apply for that home.
This is because “affordable” in this context doesn’t necessarily mean low-cost.
Instead, it means that the cost of rent and utilities for that property would be no more than 30% of a household’s income. (For homeowners, that’s the total cost of mortgage payments, taxes, insurance, utilities and other housing-related costs — which has to be 30% or less of a household’s income to be considered affordable.)
But of course, every person and every household has a different income level, meaning that a listing that’s deemed “affordable” for one household won’t be labeled affordable for another household whose income is lower — and many of these “affordable” listings still won’t be considered affordable at all to people with lower incomes, or no income at all.
The Doorway Housing Portal notes that you may also see affordable housing referred to as “low-income housing” or “restricted-income housing.” It’s also sometimes called “subsidized housing” (also known as regulated housing or deed-restricted housing), or “naturally occurring affordable housing” (so-called because the government doesn’t subsidize prices, or set rules on prices). Read more about the different kinds of affordable housing with this guide from EBHO.
Does the Doorway Housing Portal include Section 8 housing?
Doorway currently includes information about federal Section 8 programs for lower-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities, which you can find under the “Rental Assistance” header in each individual housing listing — for example, whether certain housing vouchers are considered for that property.
However, you can’t directly access Section 8 programs on Doorway itself — yet. That’s because Section 8 offerings “aren’t fully integrated” into the tool right now, said the spokesperson for the site.
As for the future, BAHFA is “exploring listing open Section 8 waitlists as a starting point,” said the spokesperson — meaning that you may see more Section 8 offerings on the Doorway Housing Portal in the future.
I’m not seeing many listings on the site that match my income level. Am I doing it wrong?
Not necessarily. Because of how “affordable” is defined in this context — i.e., the rent is no more than 30% of your household income — there just might not be any listings that are classed as affordable for your own household’s income on Doorway, at least right now.
Don’t be immediately discouraged. The Doorway Housing Portal is a new tool and is still growing. EBHO’s Sophia DeWitt cautions that because of this, it doesn’t yet “represent the full universe of available affordable homes in the Bay Area right now” since not all housing providers have yet added their listings — and that both cities and individual housing providers “need to continue to be encouraged to do so.” In the meantime, you can sign up to get email alerts when new affordable housing listings are posted to the site.
In an email to KQED, DeWitt noted that Alameda and Santa Clara counties are at present “further along in this process” of submitting affordable housing listings to the site than many other counties. So you might see more listings within those counties right now.
I found a listing on the site I’m interested in. What now?
Each listing will have details on how to apply for that property, but be aware that you might have to join a waitlist. If a listing says you can apply online, you may be redirected to the website of a property management company, where you can complete your application.
BAHFA advises that you don’t fill out multiple applications for a single listing, even if it’s from different members of your household, as “more than one application from any person in your household can completely disqualify all of the household members from that listing.”
You won’t need any supporting documentation for your initial application unless you choose to enter a lottery for that property. BAHFA says that “housing lottery preferences give certain applicants priority in the placement process,” but that this will require you to provide evidence that you fit the preference criteria. BAHFA also notes that you can “maximize your chances for these by applying for housing that is near where you live or work,” but that you should be sure to note any lottery dates marked on the listing so you don’t miss out.
Browse EBHO’s Looking for Housing? resources online, which include links and advice for applying for housing through your local housing authority.
How much does a tool like this really do to help increase access to affordable housing?
Having these listings available in one place online, and presented clearly as “a one-stop portal,” is a big help to folks seeking affordable housing, says Scott, the EBHO community organizer, and it reduces a lot of the physical and technological barriers people often face in this quest.
“We have had residents who shared their stories that say when they were homeless, finding a house was a full-time job,” Scott said. “They had literally spent as much time as you and I would spend on our 40-hour-a-week, or more, work week — they spent that on looking for housing.” The tool, he said, will “help relieve people’s time” in this regard.
But Scott says that while widening access to affordable housing is a very positive step, increasing that access without also increasing the supply of affordable housing means that residents are now met with “really long” wait lists for each listing.
“The reality is there just is not enough affordable housing in the Bay Area, and in the state,” said Scott. And local and state officials need to be “doing more to ensure that affordable housing is being funded.”
So tell us: What do you need to know more about? Tell us, and you could see your question answered online or on social media. What you submit will make our reporting stronger, and help us decide what to cover here on our site, and on KQED Public Radio, too.
Stay in touch. Sign up for our daily newsletter.