By John Ramos

SAN RAMON (KPIX 5) — Home-seekers will soon have a chance at the bargain of a lifetime in one affluent Bay Area community, but the opportunity requires that you be lucky and have a low income.

An army of builders are hard at work creating a housing development called “The Preserve.” Perched on the hills above San Ramon, most of the Lennar homes will sell in the high $800,000s.

But not all of them.

“It’s very rare that there are ownership opportunities that come on line for very low and low income residents, especially in our community,” said San Ramon Community Development Director Debbie Chamberlain.

27 three-bedroom townhomes will be sold to buyers who would normally never qualify for them. About half the units will go to “very low” income people who make from $43,000 to $70,000 a year. The other half will go to people making up to $114,000, which in San Ramon is still considered low income.

But here’s the catch: the 27 lucky, first-time home buyers will be chosen by lottery.

When asked if lottery participants have to be live in San Ramon or if can they be from anywhere in the Bay Area, Chamberlain replied, “Anywhere in the Bay Area.”

She admitted she had no idea how many applications the program might get.

San Ramon always seems to be on the lists of best places to live, but as a small town, they don’t have a housing department or anyone who knows how to run a lottery. So they have called in help from a company called HouseKeys.

“We always say, it’s easy to create a program; it’s hard to administer it,” said HouseKeys Founder and CEO Julius Nyanda.

His company has found a niche assisting small cities in meeting the state’s affordable housing mandates. In San Ramon, the challenge will be to set up a fair system for selling a few brand-new, high-end homes for prices as low at $250,000.

“Most of the time, at ‘very low’ and ‘low,’ cities tend to do rentals; they don’t do ownership opportunities at ‘very low’ and ‘low’ [income levels],” said Nyanda. “So this is a unique opportunity to the Bay Area.”

In addition to the 27 units, there will be one more. The 28th unit has been donated to the group Sentinels of Freedom and designated to be used by a disabled veteran.

The city is holding orientation sessions for people interested in joining the lottery. The November and December sessions are already full.  Another will be held in January and they expect the first homes to be completed by next fall.

Organizers say they expect six or seven lottery drawings over the next year with the first happening in February or March. For information about applying for the lottery, visit the City of San Ramon’s affordable housing website.