Move youth housing forward

Much of the low-income, transitional and supportive housing in this city has been concentrated in a few neighborhoods

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EDITORIAL Somewhere between 4,500 and 6,800 young adults in San Francisco are either homeless or marginally housed, according to a 2007 report by the Mayor's Transitional Youth Task Force. And the city has exactly 314 housing units for at-risk young people who have passed their 18th birthday and are kicked out of the foster housing program. That's the definition of a crisis — yet two modest projects that would make a small dent in the problem have faced immense obstacles moving forward.

The Booker T. Washington Center and the Community Housing Partnership want to create a combined 74 units of affordable housing for vulnerable youth. But both have endured long delays in the planning process, thanks to opposition for people in upscale neighborhoods who clearly don't want this kind of housing in their midst.

The Booker T. Washington project finally made it through the Board of Supervisors in July — although the small nonprofit is now facing a lawsuit to stop the housing. The CHP's plan to build 24 units on the site of the old Edward II Hotel in the Marina comes before the board in September, and may also face litigation.

The supervisors needs to approve the CHP project and send a strong message that this is housing San Francisco needs — and that all group housing for vulnerable populations shouldn't be confined to a few central city neighborhoods.

Opponents of the CHP project argue that it's too dense for the neighborhood. That makes little sense: The hotel that the project is replacing once offered 29 rooms, mostly double-occupied. And the majority of those temporary residents drove cars; the majority of the young people served by the project won't be vehicle owners. So the level of congestion and neighborhood impact should be relatively minor.

The larger issue that both projects reflect is that much of the low-income, transitional and supportive housing in this city has been concentrated in a few neighborhoods. It makes sense to put some housing near services, but there's no reason why projects that offer on-site support for young people who are transitioning from high school to either college or the job market can't be spread all over the city. In fact, that's what the Mayor's Office initially suggested several years ago when it sought proposals for youth housing projects.

The notion (quietly voiced by some project foes) that transitional youth housing will attract crime isn't supported by either rational thinking or evidence. Young people who have lived most of their lives in foster homes — and are facing homelessness simply because they have aged out of the system — are far less likely to have legal problems if they're housed in a supportive environment.

The city needs to be building more of this sort of affordable housing — and a clear vote in favor of the CHP project might encourage other nonprofits to start looking at similar proposals.