Making It in the Bay

Plan to Convert SF's Japantown Hotel Into Housing Aid Faces Pushback

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In San Francisco, a battle is brewing over a plan to turn a Japantown hotel into housing for the homeless. The neighbors are so upset that the city is now slowing down plans and reevaluating.

Residents of the Japantown said that they’re just starting to see tourists return after the pandemic.

For much of the pandemic, the Kimpton Buchanan Hotel was used as emergency temporary housing for the homeless.

Now, the San Francisco city officials have plans to buy the property and make it permanent and that has the neighborhood crying foul.

“Whether we like it or not. Taking away this hotel with its potential to bring in visitors will further destroy what fragile economy we have in Japantown,” said Dean Ito Taylor.

Taylor is executive director with API Legal Outreach.

“We see this as a racial equity issue we kind of resent the characterization that has been put out this is Japantown versus the unhoused issue its much deeper than that," he said.

Taylor added there are historic concerns too.

"The background here is a history of displacement a history of tearing our community apart. So, this is not an issue of trying to pit one vulnerable community against another,” he said.

The tension has gotten high enough that the city now said that it’s slowing the process down to get more input from the community.

“I want to be really clear that I think that permanent supportive housing would be a benefit to a neighborhood,” said San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston.

Preston represents Japantown and he wants to ensure the community is heard.

“I would like to have as many as possible. But it’s also about being respectful of the fact that losing a tourist hotel in Japantown, one of two tourist hotels will have an impact. And we need to engage honestly with the Japantown community and the workers who could lose their jobs,” he said.

Preston also suggested two other possible locations as conversations continue.

The city had proposed buying four properties including one in another district, where San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safai said that neighbors seem to embrace the idea.

“This permanent affordable housing will have some services on site and professional management professional security is an opportunity to stabilize a population that might not otherwise have access to housing we’re doing it all over San Francisco,” Safai said.

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