Until last month, a vacant building in the Mission was well on its way to becoming yet another lost residential care facility in San Francisco.
Facilities like the one at 628 Shotwell St. served the elderly, people with disabilities and behavioral health needs that need 24/7 care. San Francisco lost 30 percent of its licensed facilities and nine percent of its beds between 2012 and 2018, according to the most recent city reports
Though a proposal for a two-unit residential building at market rate is in the pipeline, it has been delayed for approval until early July. It’s now a race against time for the Progress Foundation to determine if they can rescue the site.
The nonprofit, which focuses on community-based behavioral health services, sent a letter of interest to the owner last week about purchasing the site but sought site assessments and more information. The Department of Public Health passed on purchasing the Shotwell site itself but may contribute some finances to help Progress make the acquisition, said spokesperson Alison Hawkes.
“I think it’s perfect for our mental health cooperative living community,” said Steve Fields, executive director of Progress Foundation. “We want to take advantage of it if we can. That ball’s in [the owner’s] court in terms of allowing that time to make that application.”
The consideration to make it an acquisition is made possible by temporary controls enacted in 2019 requiring special approval to convert facility use. Earlier this month, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced legislation to make it permanent before it expires in the fall to stem the loss of these beds.
But, he says, changes to the planning code are not enough.
“The rate at which we are losing these things are alarming,” Mandelman said. “Land use alone is not going to fix it. We need a comprehensive response and, I think, we need the political will to pursue it.”
San Francisco officials have been aware of and spoken to the issue for years. DPH provides the most assisted living facility beds in The City to the tune of $11.2 million annually — which still leaves more than 100 people on the waiting list, according to a 2019 city report. Many are placed outside of San Francisco, away from family and friends.
To break even, small facilities must charge at least $2,000 a month leaving them out of reach for low-income folks on supplemental security income. But smaller facilities are where residents can have a better sense of community, connection and quality of life than in large institutions, advocates say.
“When you have folks living in homes like these, they become stabilized and cared for and in community and it’s less costly in the long run,” said Sara Shortt, director of public policy and community organizing at Community Housing Partnership. “It’s been devastating to continue to lose these types of beds. There’s no question that it’s a contributor to the rise in homelessness and particularly folks on the streets who have mental health conditions or other special needs.”
Mandelman says, ultimately, more funding dedicated to acquisitions is needed. He is looking into the idea of requiring designated nonprofit organizations to be notified when a site is for sale. The City has a similar concept enshrined in the Community Opportunities to Purchase Act, which is specific to small residential buildings.
Reversing the trend has proven difficult, with some victories along the way. Were it not for the interim controls and community organizing, 628 Shotwell St. would have been on a faster path to becoming a two-unit residential building. The building that housed board-and-care beds became vacant after a fire in 2015.
The owner previously gave neighborhood organizers with the Mission Economic Development Agency, United to Save the Mission and Community Housing Partnership 25 days to make a $2 million offer. Progress Foundation recently came into the fold.
“We are engaging with The City and nonprofit organizations in good faith,” said attorney Ryan Patterson of firm Zacks, Freedman & Patterson, which represents the owner.
But the clock is ticking. The owner agreed to a six-week continuance last week but it still appeared as an item on the agenda, leaving it with just one hearing until it must be voted on. Under Senate Bill 330, projects are limited to five public hearings.
“We’re hoping that this will provide a window for The City and Progress [Foundation] to further investigate the purchase of this site and keep this property community-serving,” said Peter Papadopolous, land use policy analyst at MEDA. “This continues to shift the cultural component of the neighborhood in a way that’s concerning because of the impacts on the overall ecosystem.”
The proposed zoning changes will go before the Planning Commission before coming back to the Board of Supervisors for a hearing and full approval.