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San Francisco lawmaker wants $25 million to create housing for mentally ill

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Plan will “create economical and stable places for some of our most fragile residents,” says Supervisor Hillary Ronen

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Supervisor Hillary Ronen announced Tuesday that she will push a new measure at City Hall to “acquire apartments and single-family homes to create scattered site, cooperative living opportunities for people with chronic mental illness.”

Ronen wants the city to set aside $25 million for the project, which she frames as an antidote to the problem of mentally-ill residents cycling out of treatment programs without anywhere safe to go.

San Francisco Chronicle reports that Supervisor Matt Haney has a hand in the proposal as well, but his office has yet to make an official public statement.

[Update: Haney’s staff confirmed to Curbed SF that he’s a co-sponsor on the measure. Haney said via Twitter Tuesday, “Nearly half of people who go through 90 day residential treatment for mental illness or substance abuse are released back onto the street because we lack long term placements. This is shameful and devastating. [...] There are solutions.”]

The city itself would not do the heavy lifting. Instead it would lend assistance to various nonprofits who already oversee similar operations like the SF-based Progress Foundation, which opened in 1969 to “move people from state psychiatric hospitals back into the community.”

Progress Foundation’s Assistant Director of Clinical Services Kim Taylor tells Curbed SF that the foundation operates seven co-ops in the city, with 33 residents.

“It’s a stepping stone” to longer-term housing elsewhere, says Taylor, but adds that “everybody has their own trajectory” and some tenants stay for years if needed.

Residents pay up to $350 toward housing costs, with county subsidies covering the rest.

According to California Department of Health Care Service’s guidelines, programs like co-ops and the similar, shorter term “acute diversion units” face certain practical obstacles, namely: “leasing, purchasing, costs, and NIMBYs.”

Taylor says that ten years ago the foundation ran 12 co-ops in the city. Now it’s down to seven thanks to the cost of renting in SF. Ronen’s program hopes to protect groups like Progress Foundation from eviction risks.

[Update: Ronen aide Amy Beinart tells Curbed SF that the thrust of the new $25 million plan is for the city to buy new housing for the purposes of establishing co-ops, freeing them from worries about eviction.

“The number we have currently is not enough. One of the reasons it’s shrinking is it’s a model that uses master leasing of privately owned units, and the cost of leasing those goes up and up and stability becomes less and less certain,” Beinart says.]

[Correction: Beinart tells Curbed SF that the program would actually loan money to non-profits to buy the homes themselves.]

“Currently, nonprofit organizations house about 263 individuals in approximately 50 properties in neighborhoods across the city,” said Ronen in emailed comments, usually “placing four or five residents together to share a home [with] 24-7 on-call individual and household case management service.”

“For many people who are dealing with a combination of psychiatric and addiction issues, the key to stability and success is to be away from the chaotic neighborhoods and hectic surroundings that can trigger continued crises,” says Ronen.

She calls co-ops “the door to stability” and says she’ll press colleagues to support the new measure and its funding.