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Rent Prices Cause Dip in Units for Homeless Youth

by Matthew S. Bajko .
Thursday May 22, 2014

San Francisco's skyrocketing rents have led to a drop in the number of apartments a local agency can afford to lease for homeless youth.

According to Larkin Street Youth Services, the number of scattered site units it can afford to rent on the open market has dropped by nearly 20 percent over the last year. The agency receives funding from a variety of agencies to rent apartments throughout the city on behalf of the homeless youth it serves.

"Mostly, young people want to live in their own apartments like any of us," Sherilyn Adams, Larkin Street's executive director, told the Bay Area Reporter during an interview this week.

But because not all of the scattered site units Larkin rents are protected under the city's rent control laws, the prices to rent them have increased "exponentially," said Adams, due to the soaring demand for housing in San Francisco.

The city's median rent price hit $3,057 in the first quarter of the year, according to the firm Cassidy Turley, and the apartment vacancy rate had fallen to 3.8 percent.

During the July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 fiscal year, Larkin rented 73 scattered site units; during its current 2013-2014 fiscal year that number dropped to 60 such units.

"It is mainly due to the increased cost to rent the scattered site units. It means we can afford to rent less units," said Adams.

Larkin Street offers a variety of housing options for both LGBT and straight young adults around the city, including shelter beds and long-term housing. It rents 22 rooms at the Perramont Hotel on Market Street near Sanchez specifically to house LGBT youth, up from 15 last year, and has another seven scattered site units in the Castro area.

"Over the past several years, with the city's help and the commitment and good work of many people, we have been able to create new housing for homeless youth. That is great," said Adams.

But she noted that there are only three new youth housing projects slated to open in the city in coming months to help meet the current demands.

"Once those are all done," said Adams, "there aren't any new projects in the pipeline for youth."

Larkin staff and a number of the youth it serves plan to address the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee Wednesday, May 28, when it holds a special hearing on homelessness among youth and LGBT people in particular.

It will be the latest hearing on homelessness the committee has held this year at the request of District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell. After first being elected in 2010 to represent the city's Marina and Cow Hollow neighborhoods, Farrell opposed two supportive housing projects for youth that faced opposition from nearby residents.

This year, as he looks toward running for re-election in November, Farrell has sought additional funding for the city's homeless outreach team, asked for a review of the city's supportive housing programs, and called for homeless and formerly homeless residents to be given preference in all of the city's affordable housing programs.

"As you look at the statistics, we have the same number of people sleeping on the streets today as we did 10 years ago," Farrell told the B.A.R. this week. "If we are going to be serious about this issue and take serious steps, we need more active public dialogue on what San Francisco is doing, what other cities are doing, and what we can do better and different moving forward."

While acknowledging there is "no silver bullet" to fix the problem, Farrell said the best "way to impact homelessness is to house people. It sounds simple, but in San Francisco it is complicated, as are many things."

No matter how high rents soar in the city, San Francisco remains an attractive place for youth to move to, particularly LGBT youth wanting to find a welcoming community.

According to a homeless survey released last June, of the 1,902 unaccompanied children and youth living on San Francisco streets roughly 29 percent identified as LGBTQ. The overwhelming majority was over the age of 18, nearly three quarters (72 percent) were male, and one-in-four had been in the foster care system.

Declan Cante, 21, arrived in town in January from New York City looking for "aspirations" despite having nowhere to live when he arrived.

"I camped in Buena Vista Park, I think, for about three weeks," Cante, who refers to his sexual orientation as "other," told the B.A.R.

Eventually he found housing through Larkin. No longer worried about where he will sleep, Cante is now working and looking to enroll in college classes.

"I can work on things for school and basically get my life together," said Cante.

At the hearing next week, Cante plans to testify and ask the city to provide more money for youth housing.

"They need to be expanding what options are already out there," he said.

The May 28 hearing will begin at 10 a.m. in Room 250 at City Hall.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com


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