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They waited years for affordable housing. Now, a new type of database could ease that problem

Three months into her search for a new apartment closer to family in the South Bay, Judy Jackson is feeling a familiar sense of dread.

At age 76, it’s not just the packing that’s daunting for the Berkeley resident and two-time cancer survivor. It’s that the last time she was looking for an affordable place with a county housing voucher, she ended up in a shelter while she waited for her name to be called for a new home.

“I was homeless for five months,” Jackson recalled. “I signed up on a wait list in October, and it didn’t come up until March.”

Jackson’s last housing search was years ago, around 2001, but multiple tech booms since haven’t changed the old-school process of applying for many affordable homes in California, which still require prospective residents to sign up in person or by mail. So now, she’s part of a group of tenants backing a state bill, AB 1961, to create a new online application system and first-of-its-kind state database of affordable apartment listings…

…By early this year, Truscheit said, the idea that became AB1961 attracted a state lawmaker to back it, Assembly Member Jesse Gabriel, D-Encino (Los Angeles County). East Bay representative Buffy Wicks and the South Bay’s Evan Low signed on as co-authors of the bill, which is set to be considered by a state appropriations committee as soon as Thursday.

As currently written, the measure would task the state Department of Housing and Community Development with creating a central online system where tenants can store application materials, opt to receive email alerts about new housing openings and get updates on their application status. Potential homes listed in the database would include deed-restricted, multiunit affordable housing, properties that usually receive public construction funds in exchange for fixing rental rates at no more than 30% of income. It’s a pool that includes 504,872 homes statewide, according to a California Housing Partnership Corporation estimate cited in an analysis of the bill.