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Politics & Policy

Mayor drops Chinatown ‘sober housing’ plan amid pushback

A woman in a red blazer is walking with her head down, surrounded by people and photographers.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed exits a press conference about opening a sober housing project in Chinatown in early February. Two weeks later, she's changing the plan amid strong pushback. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

San Francisco City Hall will halt a controversial “sober housing” proposal in Chinatown as it faces strong pushback from nearby merchants and community groups.

At a Chinatown event Tuesday morning, Mayor London Breed confirmed that she’s considering changes to the plan, saying, “We have to make some adjustments.” Hours later, the Mayor's Office sent an official statement to Chinese-language media saying the city will drop the plan and look for an alternative site.

The sober housing plan aimed to transform Hotel North Beach, located at the border between Chinatown and North Beach on 935 Kearny St., into a rehabilitation facility with 150 permanent housing units. Qualified tenants would be formerly homeless individuals with drug abuse issues who have been sober and housed for at least a year.

Breed and drug abuse recovery advocates made the bombshell announcement two weeks ago, during Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown. A lack of prior outreach angered many in the community. Multiple restaurant owners on that same block, along with a representative from the iconic Sentinel Building, the green-colored historical landmark across the street from the proposed site, all spoke out against the project.

Concerns centered on whether the rehabilitation site could bring problematic behaviors to the highly touristy area, causing the neighborhood to deteriorate.

But supporters of the project said it would give those struggling with addiction a safer environment, far away from the drug epicenters of SoMa and Tenderloin, to improve themselves. And they claim that the sober living facility is a successful model.

Breed acknowledged that the lack of outreach and deference to the Chinatown community led the city to consider changing the plan.

“When you go into anybody's community, you have to show respect to the community,” Breed said. “Unfortunately, this didn't fit the bill.”

A massive opposition effort had been brewing in the Chinatown community. Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association and other major Chinatown groups were preparing to launch a petition to oppose the project and host a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin told The Standard that Breed informed him over the Presidents Day long weekend that she would not move forward with the project. He said the community can now discuss alternative uses for the site, such as low-income family or senior housing.

The city has already selected the Tenderloin Housing Clinic to operate the proposed sober housing project and scheduled a community town hall for March 21. The organization could not be reached for comment.