Supervisor Dean Preston has called for vacant units in a project at 555 Fulton St. to be used for housing the homeless. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Amid coronavirus lockdown, SF supervisor calls on building owner to house homeless

Preston says property caught up in corruption probe can help unhoused families and seniors

Supervisor Dean Preston is calling on the owners of a largely vacant development to step up and house homeless families and seniors at a time when San Francisco has ordered residents to stay indoors.

The mixed-use development at 555 Fulton St. initially attracted Preston’s attention over construction delays and its failure to fulfill a promise to the Hayes Valley neighborhood to lease the ground floor to a grocery store.

But he recently delved deeper into the project when it became a player in a corruption probe this January, and Preston learned that the building is sitting vacant with more than 50 of its 139 units unsold and the others unoccupied.

Now as The City is in the midst of a coronavirus emergency, Preston said the owners should welcome the opportunity to do something positive for the community “on a property that has been such a problem in so many ways.”

“Our hope is that any units that have not been committed to a buyer can be made available immediately for temporary occupancy in this urgent health crisis,” Preston wrote in a letter Monday.

Preston sent the letter to property owners Zhang Li and Z & L Properties. Li is the co-founder and CEO of Guangzhou R&F Properties Co. and Z & L Properties is its U.S. affiliate. He requested a response within 72 hours.

A spokesperson for Z & L Properties did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Li was the Chinese billionaire who allegedly wined and dined former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru, as the FBI outlined in a widely reported criminal complaint against the disgraced city leader.

Preston argued that sheltering homeless individuals at 555 Fulton St. is a ripe opportunity for the owners to protect vulnerable homeless persons.

“There is zero barrier for moving people in immediately,” Preston told the San Francisco Examiner. “People can move in there tomorrow.”

Last week, The City announced plans to temporarily house homeless individuals who test positive for the coronavirus or need to be quarantined in recreational vehicles parked in the Presidio.

But officials have yet to announce a shelter expansion for those who are most vulnerable and have not tested positive nor ordered to quarantine. Preston wants the units for that category of homeless families and seniors, and more specifically for those who live in District 5.

Trent Rhorer, head of the Human Services Agency, told reporters Monday that about 450 beds have been arranged to house homeless individuals, or people in single-room occupancy hotels, who need to be quarantined.

However, he noted that projections show a need for as many as 3,500 housing units, with 2,500 for self-quarantine and 1,000 for isolation.

For example, Rhorer said there was a need for 30 of these beds Monday after homeless persons showed symptoms for COVID-19 and were tested in the hospital.

Hospitals won’t release those who have been tested and are awaiting results unless the person has a place to self-quarantine. Rhorer said it’s important to free up those hospital beds.

Under the shelter-in-place order issued Tuesday at midnight, homeless people are encouraged to seek shelter but are not required to remain indoors.

Rhorer said the top priority right now is to find housing for people who need to quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus or testing positive.

“We are currently assessing whether or not we would have the capacity to increase general shelter operations, expanding in other sites throughout the city,” Rhorer said. “We have not finished that assessment or made that decision yet.”

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