S.F. wants to put homeless hotels around the city. These are the neighborhoods pushing back

San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 26, 2021

By Mallory Moench

As San Francisco races to buy four properties by the end of the year for homeless housing, city officials are facing resistance in some neighborhoods, with the strongest so far in Japantown.

Many Japantown community leaders, business owners and residents are opposing San Francisco’s plan to buy a tourist hotel in the neighborhood and convert it into permanent affordable housing with social services for people experiencing homelessness.

Locals say their opposition isn’t anti-homeless, pointing out many supported using the Buchanan Hotel to house homeless people during the pandemic. But they’re worried about the demise of tourism if one of the neighborhood’s two hotels is permanently lost and critical of what they feel is a rushed process in a historically marginalized community.

“When you start taking away those economic resources, it will choke the community,” said Paul Osaki, a resident for 60 years and executive director of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California. “Our concern has everything to do with saving our community’s economy and the survival of Japantown’s small businesses.”

By Thursday, more than 2,500 people signed an online petition to stop the sale. During a three-hour virtual community meeting Thursday, 63 people expressed opposition to the plan, with nine in support and three advocating for a compromise. The city originally scheduled only one meeting, but announced another for Sept. 8.

Japantown isn’t the only neighborhood where residents have concerns. The Buchanan Hotel is one of four properties the city wants to buy by the end of the year to create 368 permanent supportive housing units, where formerly homeless residents pay 30% of their income in rent and receive social services such as case management.

The three other locations are in SoMa, the Mission and the Excelsior. At a community meeting Wednesday for the hotel in the Excelsior, residents were divided. One resident who lives near the hotel, which has been housing up to four dozen homeless veterans during the pandemic, said two dozen neighbors oppose the plan, concerned about an increase of syringes and trash over the past year and fears of attracting drug dealing.

Locals and nonprofit advocates largely supported the site in the Mission at a meeting Tuesday, eager to see affordable housing for youth in the neighborhood. The SoMa site meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Officials, advocates and formerly homeless people have pushed to spread out affordable housing sites to neighborhoods beyond the Tenderloin, where most unhoused and formerly homeless people live, but doing so can spark protests.

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