S.F. slows down plan to convert Japantown hotel into homeless housing amid resistance

San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 7, 2021

By Trisha Thadani


San Francisco officials are putting the brakes on plans to turn a tourist hotel in Japantown into housing for more than a hundred homeless people, after droves of neighbors complained about the proposal.


Many Japantown community leaders, business owners and residents oppose the purchase, worried that losing one of two hotels in the neighborhood will hurt local businesses.


The Kimpton Buchanan Hotel at 1800 Sutter St. is one of four properties the city wants to buy with state money and turn into permanent supportive housing. But the proposal has attracted so much neighborhood opposition that Mayor London Breed’s office said Tuesday that it will give officials a few more weeks for community outreach.


If the project doesn’t move forward, the city could lose a chance to apply for state funding to create 131 units of desperately needed housing in a neighborhood with scant homeless services. Officials said they are considering other properties in the city in case this one doesn’t work out.


“With so many people living on our streets we are committed to moving quickly to buy hotels,” Andy Lynch, a spokesman for Breed said in a statement. “But we also will listen to the community, hear their concerns, and try to incorporate their feedback, which is what we’re doing now.”


In the meantime, Breed introduced a resolution at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to approve the acquisition of two other properties — one in the Mission and another in the Outer Mission. Officials are working on the contract for a fourth property in SoMa and plan to move forward on it soon.


The four buildings would add 368 units to the city’s permanent supportive housing stock, in which homeless people pay 30% of their income in rent and receive social services such as case management.


But the resistance in Japantown demonstrates the challenges Breed faces as she tries to spread homelessness services and housing around the city. The overwhelming majority of the city’s shelter, drop-in centers and permanent supportive housing units are in the Tenderloin and SoMa.


“We support supportive housing,” said Richard Hashimoto, president of the Japantown Merchants Association. “But just not in this neighborhood.”


By Tuesday, more than 6,500 people signed an online petition to stop the sale of the Japantown hotel, which is currently a temporary shelter for homeless people during the pandemic.


“They’re not going to spend as much money in Japantown as a tourist would,” Hashimoto said, referring to the would-be tenants who are often living on the margins of society and struggling with mental illness and drug addiction. “That’s a huge economic loss for us.”

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