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Westside residents demand low-income senior housing

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Forest Hill Christian Church, located at 250 Laguna Honda Blvd. in San Francisco, is seen Nov. 15, 2016. (Jessica Christian/2016 S.F. Examiner)

We know that San Francisco faces an extreme housing shortage, especially affordable housing. However, projects that alleviate the shortage are within our reach — but too often they are impeded by red tape and obstructionism. As residents of San Francisco’s West of Twin Peaks and District 7, we’re speaking out to support one such project in our backyard.

THE 100 PERCENT AFFORDABLE HOUSING WE WANT TO SEE
At 250 Laguna Honda Blvd., down the block from the Forest Hill Muni station, Christian Church Homes (CCH), a developer of low-income housing, wants to act on what they see as their mission to help “the least among us” and redevelop the Forest Hill Christian Church and parking lot as affordable homes for senior residents.

For the past year-and-a-half, CCH has worked with The City’s Planning Department and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (HSH) to build a 100 percent affordable, 100-to-120-unit building (reduced from the initial proposal for 150 homes) for low-income seniors, including 20 percent reserved for formerly homeless seniors.

SEE RELATED: Forest Hill neighbors oppose 150-unit senior housing proposal

This project would simultaneously address two urgent problems: increase housing supply through dense infill development near transit, and provide secure shelter to some of our city’s most vulnerable residents. Despite the fact that Forest Hill Christian Church owns the land and has funding to build the homes, bureaucratic delays and NIMBY opposition are tying up the project.

Recent estimates from The City indicate that, even with willing participants, merely getting final approval for construction might take until 2020 or later. The Planning Department has made the task even harder by objecting to the demolition of part of the existing church — which church leadership and the congregation no longer want to preserve — on spurious and arbitrary “historic preservation” grounds. Preserving the church would reduce both available funds and space for the development.

Meanwhile, some local residents and the Forest Hill Association have raised a scattershot array of objections. Some of these are understandable: CCH needs to address concerns about soil stability at the building site and assure the owners of adjacent homes that no damage befalls their property during construction.

Other objections, however, reflect an ugly historic pattern of exclusionary resistance to affordable housing in San Francisco and across the country.

At a recent Forest Hill Association meeting, residents peppered HSH representatives with hostile questions about how potential residents would be “vetted.” Neighbors dismissed various other examples of successful low-income senior housing developments in San Francisco on the grounds that those were in “more urban” neighborhoods. Several complained that low-income elderly people, many of them disabled, somehow represent a threat to the safety or “character” of a residential neighborhood such as Forest Hill.

These ridiculous and prejudiced accusations are particularly inexcusable in light of Forest Hill’s shameful history as a formerly segregated neighborhood; many of those who would reside in the proposed development are likely among the victims of segregationist policies. Building projects like this, in places like this, is both a necessity of sound urban planning and an imperative of social justice.

We who live in Forest Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods love our city and community deeply. Many of us plan to grow old here and realize we are incredibly lucky to be able to afford to do so in such a place. We cannot in good conscience fail to make room for those far less fortunate than us, especially on underutilized land adjacent to transit.

We urge you to contact Supervisor Norman Yee, the Planning Department and Mayor Mark Farrell to express your support for this project and ask they expedite its approval. We must do everything we can to make San Francisco a more affordable and fairer city.

Nicholas Weininger is a Forest Hill resident. Giovanna Guevara is a Sunnyside resident. Additional signers include Tim Colen, Forest Hill Extension; Philip Crone, Ingleside; Madeeha Ghori, Forest Knolls; Frank Noto, Golden Gate Heights; and Mary Shields, Lakeshore. All are members of Westside = best side!

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