The focus on transitional age youth in San Francisco

In 2006, Mayor Gavin Newsom established the Mayor’s Task Force on Transitional Age Youth (TAY) for young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are in transition from state custody or foster care and are at risk. The Mayor’s Task Force developed a set of policy recommendations and affordable housing emerged as a critical need. As a result, the Mayor’s Office of Housing (MOH) convened the TAY Housing Work Group to meet the housing goals established by the task force. The goal set is to create 400 additional TAY housing units (above the 350 currently in existence) by 2015 using a variety of housing models.

In 2009, MOH issued its first “TAY-NOFA (Notice of Funding Availability)” and indicated an intention to finance three developments to create 88 additional TAY supportive housing units over the next several years. Six project sponsors responded to the NOFA and two out of the three that received funding are located in District 2. Booker T. Washington, located at 800 Presidio Avenue, proposed 50 units of mixed housing – including TAY housing and affordable housing. Community Housing Partnership proposed 25 units of TAY housing at 3155 Scott Street, the former bed and breakfast known as King Edward II. The other proposal that received funding for 40 units of TAY housing is located in the Tenderloin.

When I was elected as District 2 Supervisor, both the Booker T. Washington Center and King Edward II projects were already in various stages of the entitlement phase – both projects require a change in the zoning to accomplish their proposed number of housing units. The Booker T. Washington project is front and center right now, and has required a great deal of my attention.

The Booker T. Washington Community Service Center (BTWCSC) is an amazing organization that has been around since 1919. It has responded to community needs with job training, after-school and teen programs, recreation, emergency food distribution, counseling on housing and healthcare, senior clubs, and other programs. BTWCSC’s proposal for a new community center and an affordable housing development has been in the works for several years – it will help them to fulfill their mission and provide a new residential component to their services.

To accomplish their proposal of 50 units of affordable housing (with 24 of those units dedicated to TAY), the Board of Supervisors must pass legislation to create a “special use district” that will allow increased density and increased zoning height from a current maximum of 40 feet to 55 feet. This would allow for a building of five stories where there is now a community center and gymnasium. The special use district legislation had already been introduced by my predecessor, Supervisor Alioto-Pier, and the project was awaiting a hearing at the Planning Commission when I came into office. One of the first community meetings I attended after being sworn in was at the BTWCSC where the project sponsor was unveiling the building design after taking some of the neighbors’ concerns into consideration. It was obvious from that meeting that work remained to be done to address neighborhood issues.

I ultimately received letters of opposition to the proposed building from five different neighborhood groups in District 2, as well as letters of opposition from dozens of immediate neighbors who live close to the proposed development. The principal reasons were first, the size of the new development (a 55-foot-high development in a 40-foot height zone), and second, the lack of parking spaces for the 50 new units.

Over the past few months, I spent dozens of hours with the different neighborhood groups and ultimately forged a compromise whereby each neighborhood group would turn their letter of opposition into a letter of support if we simply lower the building from 55 feet to 45 feet and create a four-story building instead of a five-story building. This would still require “up-zoning” the project, but the building size would be more in line with the neighborhood and is a solution everyone would be willing to live with.

I also worked very closely with MOH to ensure that the project was financially feasible at the lower height, and MOH specifically sent a letter to BTWCSC indicating that MOH would commit the necessary resources to ensure it was a financially feasible project at 45 feet.

Nevertheless, the BTWCSC board of directors declined to accept this compromise solution, and has been forcefully lobbying my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to support the 55-foot project – at present, another supervisor has sponsored the required special use district legislation. In my opinion, it is incredibly unfortunate that the BTWCSC has chosen to ignore the hard work that has been put in by the numerous neighborhood groups, MOH and my office simply to have their way.

Let me be clear: I recognize the need for more affordable housing in San Francisco, and in particular housing for the TAY community. However, I don’t think projects should be constructed or implemented that are not responsive to concerns of neighborhoods in which they are placed – this approach to development is unsustainable and something I will not support, even if I may be in the minority at the Board of Supervisors. It will be much easier to accomplish the goal of 400 units of TAY housing by 2015 if neighborhood character is respected and not tossed aside as an inconvenient bump in the road.

Supervisor Farrell represents District 2 and can be reached at 415-554-7752 or .