Housing for at-risk youths meets ‘toxic’ backlash in San Francisco 

A dispute over a proposed affordable-housing project for youths at risk of homelessness has turned “toxic,” according to one member of the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to resolve the land-use battle later this month.

The Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, at 800 Presidio Ave., wants to build a 55-foot-high, 50-unit affordable-housing project for young adults at risk of homelessness, such as those coming out of the foster care system. The project, which would sit where several neighborhoods come together — including the Richmond, Western Addition, Presidio and Pacific Heights — creates the type of housing San Francisco sorely lacks, but it has neighbors fighting to scale it back.

On Monday, the debate heated up as those from both sides came to the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearing on legislation that would allow the project to exceed the area’s zoning restrictions. Opponents have filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of a special permit for the project, and they have challenged the environmental review of the development. The full board is scheduled to vote on all three, including the permit appeal, as early as next Tuesday.

A compromise remains elusive between neighbors and the center, and Supervisor Scott Wiener on Monday decried “the unfortunate and, I think, unnecessarily toxic dynamic that has formed around this project.”  

Neighbors have hired well-known lobbyist Jon Kaufman of Solem and Associates, who has been meeting with Supervisor Mark Farrell, whose district includes the project site, and other city officials. Farrell has attempted to come up with a compromise on a scaled-back project. But there also is strong backing for the development as proposed.

“The scale of the project, it’s too big,” Kaufman said. “Right now, there are no units of housing on this site. It’s zoned for 28 units; 50 are proposed.”

Neighbors said they would support a 45-foot-tall building with 41 units, a compromise they had worked up with Farrell.

The center’s board president, Julian Davis, said a reduction in units would not work. “That is not financially feasible,” Davis said.

The project, which includes a child care center and a 175-seat gym, would exceed current allowed heights by 15 feet. The development, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Housing, would offer half the units to low-income residents and the other half to transitional youths aged 18 to 24.

“They often return at 18 with no support system, only fractured family ties,” Davis said. “And then when they do, there is no housing for them.”

Supervisor Eric Mar, who is chairman of the land-use committee, said reducing the project would cost The City between $500,000 to $1 million more and put a face behind the loss of units.

“The nine additional units are about people’s lives,” Mar said.

The City has a goal of creating 500 transitional-youth units by 2016.


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