Approve affordable housing -- for youth

Legislation regarding a crucial project to house low-income youth is on its way


OPINION Booker T. Washington, born as a slave, risked his life to learn to read and write and went on to found Tuskegee University. At his core, he believed that economic independence and access to education were the keys to equality. He put it best when he said: "There are two ways of exerting one's strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up."

Since 1919, the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center has worked to lift up San Franciscans of every background, with a particular focus on the African American community. To continue that vision, the center is embarking on a capital project that will provide 50 units of affordable housing to youth and families, along with new athletic and educational space.

The most critical part of the project is providing housing for transitional-age youth. Many of these young people age out of foster care with no family support, few job skills, and no chance to rent a market-rate apartment in this expensive city. The project represents a real commitment to these youth, who are overwhelmingly people of color. With affordable housing funding under threat at the federal and state levels, it's essential that shovel-ready projects get the green light from City Hall.

That is why we were thrilled when Sups. Ross Mirkarimi, Eric Mar, and Mark Farrell introduced the necessary legislation to allow this project to move forward. Joining hundreds of community leaders, countless families, and prominent African Americans, these supervisors lent their support for a project that continues the ongoing fight for economic justice.

It's also why we are concerned that a few neighbors are using their influence to push down on the hopes of San Francisco's youth. Some neighbors have asked that we add additional parking, even though the site is just a few blocks from Geary Boulevard and most low-income youth don't have cars. Others have suggested that we cut nine units to make the building shorter, even though San Francisco's housing needs are so acute. As is often the case in San Francisco, those who support progressive values need to speak up to ensure that we can overcome this campaign of misinformation and fear.

On April 28, the Planning Commission will consider whether to certify the environmental impact report for this project, and whether to approve it. We are hopeful that progressive voices speak out so we can provide hope and a future to youth in our community. As Booker T. often said: "Success is to be measured not so much by the position one has reached in life as by the obstacles one has overcome." 

Julian Davis is president of the board and Patricia Scott is executive director of the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center, located at 800 Presidio Ave. The Planning Commission hearing is Thursday, April 28 at City Hall, Room 400.



On April 28, the Planning Commission approved the Booker T. Washington Community Service Center's project. However, we must respectfully respond to Mr. Davis' and Ms. Scott's various statements concerning neighborhood involvement, particularly that Booker T's neighbors have engaged in a campaign of fear, misinformation, and suppression of the hopes of disadvantaged youth.

Contrary to Mr. Davis' and Ms. Scott's opinions, these facts are part of the public record with the Planning Department and the Planning Commission:

1. The neighbors support Booker T's mission, the replacement of its gym and community center, construction of affordable housing for families and emancipated youth, and the emancipated youth programs.

2. The Planning Commissioners were pleased to see this neighborhood support, when they are used to seeing neighbors fighting projects.

3. Supervisor Mark Farrell, one of the three legislation sponsors, authored a proposal to revise the building height from 55 to 45 feet, but it never included any reduction of emancipated youth housing. The sponsors and a majority of the Commissioners rejected the proposal.

4. Parking was brought up specifically to address its negative impact on existing, seriously congested traffic conditions resulting from double parking on Presidio Avenue by Booker T's users, MUNI employees, and buses entering the MUNI yard across the street form Booker T.

5. None of the approximately 20 parking spaces provided by the development will be available to any of the 50 housing units, but will be available for use by Booker T's staff and volunteers. Both the housing and community center have equal access to public transportation on Geary.

6. Advocates for this project have always had exponentially greater political, public, and financial influence than any of Booker T's neighbors. The neighbors are exercising the same legal right to use whatever influence they might have to present their concerns.

7. The increased urgency for providing emancipated youth housing was not caused by neighborhood opposition.

We neighbors are not anti-development, anti-housing, or anti-youth. We have the right to publicly comment on this project, and to correct misstatements by referring to the public record.

Posted by Ron Kardon and Joyce Lively, 2755 Sutter St. San Francisco on May. 04, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

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