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Why San Diego’s first LGBT-affirming senior community application lottery is so unfair

Guest Commentary

CHW’s newest development in North Park | ARTIST RENDERING: JOE CORDELLE ARCHITECTURE: RODRIGUEZ + ASSOCIATES

When I attended the North Park Seniors Information Session at The LGBT Center Sept. 8, 2016, I felt blindsided by one of the first pieces of information that was disseminated at that meeting:

There will be a lottery to determine the application selection order. The lottery is being put in place to ensure all interest list applicants have the same opportunity for housing at North Park Seniors.

The reasons for my shock and dismay are several and it is my intention to express them all because they will explain why I, personally, feel betrayed and I’m pretty sure that I speak for many who may not feel as though they have a voice in this matter.

This project began almost 10 years ago with the interviewing of LGBT members of the community to ascertain what they believed their housing needs might be when they reached retirement. It then evolved into a Needs Assessment to determine housing needs for LGBT seniors in San Diego. Many lesbians and gays devoted several years to this groundwork and, it is my understanding that this provided the foundation for Community Housing Works’ (CHW) intention to move forward with an LGBT senior housing project.

From then on, there were several in the LGBT community who supported this project by attending community meetings, City Council and City Planning Commission meetings, offering suggestions when called upon by CHW, appearing in promotional videos, etc. Based upon the information presented, 88-year-old Robert Bettinger, who has worked on this project since its inception, has been the verbal spokesperson for CHW at the City Council meetings, groundbreaking ceremony, etc., has been the subject of promotional videos, including the one on KPBS, will simply be one name in the 500-person lottery.

June 23, 2015, some of us were meeting with the architects that were designing the landscaping and the public areas. We spent a couple of hours, providing feedback and making suggestions. It was at that time that we were told that because CHW had always used a lottery system when a building was first being populated, the same system would be used in this case as well. That was a shocking revelation to me because it was my understanding that this was to be an apartment building that would provide much-needed housing, primarily for LGBT seniors and the list would be considered in order of signing up.

Oct. 8, 2015, I convened a meeting at The Center with LaRue Fields, senior coordinator at The Center, Anne Wilson, senior V.P. at CHW, and Mary Scott Knoll, executive director of the Fair Housing Council, and myself, to discuss whether, given the fact that if this was to be an LGBT-welcoming facility, was it essential to have a lottery in order to not be discriminatory? There was much discussion with a lot of input from Ms. Knolls who assured everyone that it certainly wasn’t essential and that there was even a possibility that it could be exclusively an LGBT apartment building because LGBT’s have experienced housing discrimination. The next time I saw Ms. Wilson was at the DreamBuilder event at the downtown library Oct. 13, 2015, and she told me that CHW was now leaning strongly against the idea of a lottery.

Fast forwarding to the meeting of Sept. 8, 2016, according to the handout we received which is quoted above, everyone who signs up on the interest list will have the same opportunity to become a resident. That means there will be no difference between Joe Blow who sees a flyer and signs up and those of us who have devoted years of time and energy to providing support and service to this project. It has always been our understanding that we would be sharing a community with our LGBT brothers and sisters, in a residential facility that was created primarily for LGBT seniors, in which others would also be welcome. If we look at it statistically, of the 500 applicants, 50 would be gay – or, out of 76 units, seven would be gay-occupied.

When I expressed my concern in the meeting, I was told that the lottery was the fair way, vs. giving advantage to those who signed up first. “How would you feel if you were in the hospital the first day of the list and you couldn’t sign up right away?” My question is: “How do you think I feel, having given so much energy to this project for the past several years, only to find out that my chances of getting an apartment are no more assured than 499 other people who happened to sign up during the first week?”

It is my opinion that somewhere along the way, between CHW and ConAm Management, the original intention of providing housing specifically for, even though not exclusively for, LGBT seniors has been lost. Please think back to your original motivation and consider who has been supporting this project through all phases of its development. Is it really necessary to insure the same opportunity for all applicants?

I welcome all feedback.

Betty Owen is an active member of the San Diego senior LGBT community, primarily as a volunteer. She is a member of the Senior Advisory Committee at The Center and volunteers at, not only Center events, but also for MARYAH and the Human Dignity Foundation.



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Posted by on Sep 15, 2016. Filed under Bottom Highlights, Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Comments for “Why San Diego’s first LGBT-affirming senior community application lottery is so unfair”

  1. I wonder if Ms Owen’s service to the seniors of the community wasn’t in reality serving her own interests first. Certainly it seems like that was her expectation. She bemoans the lottery process as being unfair to the people who worked on the project for years as if she doesn’t really want everyone to have an equal probability of getting one of the senior apartments. I wonder if she would be fine with a lottery for everyone else after she selected her apartment. And people claim the millennial generation is self-serving.

  2. Yes, John, I’ll definitely admit to being self-serving in some of my service to this project–it was a great motivator, having lost over half of my retirement in the recession with little, if any, hope of recovery. At 77, I had a lot of attachment to finding my own final nesting place. And I say “had,” because I have since been able to “let the chips fall where they may.” I will apply, just like everyone else, and hope to get in, but if I don’t, I’m sure I will still land on my feet. I always do. Thanks for your astute observation!

  3. I hope you get in as well Betty. Let’s be clear though that lots of people lost everything in the recession. I’m sure many on the 500+ waiting list would be considered in the same circumstances. So, my question is why do you think it’s unfair that you don’t get preferential treatment and, instead, you get to apply just like everybody else? It would strike me as being highly unfair if you were to be given special treatment.

  4. John, I’m not asking for preferential treatment. I was simply in hopes of getting myself on the list early in the sign-up process for the “first come/first served” way of selection. We’re on the same page, John! And I hope you get in too.

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