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Supervisor Preston questions housing officials on 730 Stanyan, but finds limited answers

After years of uncertainty regarding the interim use of an empty lot at 730 Stanyan in the Haight, a Board of Supervisors committee spent nearly two hours on Thursday discussing the site. 

Only to land once again in the realm of uncertainty. 

At a meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee, Supervisor Dean Preston continued a push for a drop-in center for homeless youth on the property, a plan that was scrapped two weeks ago by Mayor Breed. Representatives from the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing fielded questions from Preston, contending what was already said in weeks prior—that they abandoned the plan due to a lack of funding.  

Preston accused Mayor Breed of breaking a promise with the Homeless Youth Alliance, the nonprofit that was slated to run the site. The group also ran a polarizing safe sleeping village at 730 Stanyan at the onset of the pandemic.

“We were never asked to try to find additional funding,” said Preston, who represents District 5, where the Stanyan site is located. “There was a funding gap, but if we were to find a way to raise those funds would it proceed? We were told no.” 

The reneged plan sought to turn the empty lot into a site with handwashing stations, bathrooms and counseling services for homeless youth. The Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing estimated that the plan would cost $372,000, exceeding the available funding by $280,000.   

The drawn-out meeting was just the latest chapter in a longstanding saga surrounding 730 Stanyan, the site of a once-notorious McDonald’s turned future affordable housing site that the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development purchased for $10 million in 2018. 

According to Bo Han of Chinatown Community Development Center, one of the developers of the forthcoming affordable housing at 730 Stanyan, the project is still in the process of acquiring funding.  Han predicted that the development would begin construction in Spring 2023.  

The lot currently sits empty ahead of the planned housing construction, and its interim use has been the subject of a tug-of-war between neighborhood groups surrounding the site, as well as Preston and Breed, who formerly represented District 5. 

Andy Lynch, a spokesperson for Mayor Breed, said that it was “clear” from the Homeless Youth Alliance’s application for the drop-in site that it would “only be able to provide staff,” rather than the promised handwashing services and bathrooms. 

“The challenge with this site is that the original timeline of construction was supposed to begin soon but was delayed,” said Andy Lynch, a spokesperson for Mayor Breed. “[The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development’s] interim use policy with the Stanyan site and all other MOHCD-controlled sites is to prioritize it for City partner, city-serving use.While the agency is currently evaluating other City agencies utilizing the site as an interim use, the current schedule assumes construction start in just one and half years.”

At a meeting last week, Breed raised concerns about accountability at the site, saying that the homelessness department shouldn’t be funding programs that “don’t deliver.” She also called into question a claim by Preston that the homeless drop-in center had received support in the neighborhood. 

“The accountability around the programming of homeless youth in the Haight is very much problematic,” Breed said. “The services that we’re funding aren’t delivering the kinds of changes that we would expect to see for the amount of money that we’ve invested even already.”

Preston indicated on Thursday that he saw this exchange as a “power flex” for Breed and that her decision was influenced by what he described as a fringe community group. 

“It’s pretty rare that any of us bring before a committee a hearing request around a specific proposal,” Preston said. 

Emily Cohen, a spokesperson for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said that the department is looking into funding other services in the Haight, including: a homeless youth housing subsidy pool, a youth navigation center, and funding for behavioral health care.