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SF pulls plug on costly SoMa lease for homeless department offices

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The Department of Homelessness plans to purchase the property at 440 Turk St. next month for $5 million. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

After a backlash, San Francisco has abandoned plans for both a 24-hour resource center for the homeless in the Tenderloin and a costly lease to house the new homeless department, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

In July, many were surprised to the learn that the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which was created about one year ago, no longer planned to use 440 Turk St. in the Tenderloin for office space, but instead for an around-the-clock homeless center that would cost $12 million.

The department also proposed a costly lease for its offices in the 25,125-square-foot SoMa space at 170 Ninth St. that would have cost The City $27 million over the next 12 years, with an initial $50-per-square-foot base rent.

The plan was blasted by prominent political figures, and the Board of Supervisors postponed in July a vote on the deal until today. At the time, they argued the lease was exorbitant and the department failed to do outreach in the Tenderloin for the resource center.

In response to the backlash, the homeless department has scrapped its initial proposal and reverted back to its original plan to use 440 Turk St. as office space. The City would buy 440 Turk St. from the Housing Authority.

The department will no longer seek the Ninth Street lease.

Supervisor Jane Kim, who represents the Tenderloin on the Board of Supervisors, said the department’s decision came after a community meeting was subsequently held to respond to the backlash.

“I’m disappointed that the community outreach wasn’t done to ask the neighbors what they wanted to see on that site,” Kim told the Examiner on Monday. “Now, we are going to be working on something that works for the neighborhood.”

Kim said she deferred to the area residents for the right approach. “For me, it was really important to represent their voices,” Kim said. “The neighborhood really wanted HSH to come there. They wanted the admin offices because they want the staff to see what the Tenderloin goes through on a daily basis.”

The “sentiment” of the neighborhood, which already has the lion’s share of San Francisco’s social services, was that a 24-hour resource center would exacerbate the challenges the community already faces, according to Kim.

Sam Dodge, deputy director with the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, told the Examiner on Monday that it would take about one year to 18 months for the department to move into 440 Turk St.

He said 80 percent of the space would be for office space and 20 percent for client services. It’s unclear what those services will look like, such as if there will be showers on site, but there will be space for meeting rooms with homeless residents.

“Some of the service mix discussion is still ongoing,” Dodge said.

He also said that the plan is no longer to remain open 24 hours a day, but for 12 hours.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who in July ripped into the cost of the lease as fiscally irresponsible, told the Examiner on Monday that the homeless department “made the right decision.” If there was any doubt, Safai noted that the “exorbitant rate” of the Ninth Street lease was “dead on arrival.”

Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and a strong supporter of Mayor Ed Lee, sharply rebuked San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing Director Jeff Kositsky for planning to open up a 24-hour homeless center in the Tenderloin without public outreach.

“Can you imagine Jeff Kositsky of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing trying to open a 24-hour homeless center without public input in Bernal Heights? He wouldn’t dare,” Shaw wrote on his news website BeyondChron.org under a July post titled “The Tenderloin Betrayed.”

Shaw told the Examiner in an email Monday that he was “glad to hear” the department “pulled out of the high-priced SOMA lease,” but, he said, there remains a lack of clarity about what the services would look like and the hours of operation.

Shaw said the department should quickly move into 440 Turk St. “since the site has been vacant for years and is now a site for drug use and a homeless encampment.”

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