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

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

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 neigborhood’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, 66 people expressed opposition to the plan, with eight in support. 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 Kimpton Buchanan Hotel is reflected in the window of Benkyodo across the street.

Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

The three other locations are in SoMa, the Mission and the Excelsior. At a community meeting Wednesday for the motel in the Excelsior, public commenters were divided. One resident who lives near the motel, 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 needles and trash over the past year and fears of attracting drug dealing.

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

Neighborhood outrage puts city officials in a tricky position as they seize the opportunity to acquire more housing with new local and state funds to stem the homelessness crisis.

Andy Lynch, Mayor London Breed’s spokesman, said the city was in close contact with Japantown leaders and understands “concerns about the possible economic impact.”

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