Nonprofits trying to hold on amid soaring rents; 42 apply for public funds 

click to enlarge Meridian Gallery
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • Anne Brodzky’s Meridian Gallery was evicted from its location on Powell Street and forced to move its administrative offices to the Presidio, its youth arts program to a venue on Sutter Street and its music program to North Beach.
Forty-two San Francisco nonprofits have applied for public funding set aside this year by city officials to keep such groups from being displaced or shuttered in response to soaring commercial rents.

Just as economic pressures have altered San Francisco’s famously unique and colorful neighborhoods, The City’s robust nonprofit community is also undergoing a forced transformation.

A mental health clinic forced from the Tenderloin, a women’s press publishing company trying to hang on, an art gallery with youth programs evicted, a Bayview veterans program forced to move to the Sunset — these are among the stories of nonprofits impacted by the economic strain of a booming technology sector gobbling up retail space.

Commercial rents have quickly risen since bottoming out in 2010 at $37 per square foot following the start of the recession in 2008. Rents have jumped to $62 per square foot, “a 24 percent increase above the pre-recession peak established in 2008,” according to the City Controller’s Office.

Nonprofit leaders sounded the alarm about rent hikes this year and, in response, The City established a $4.5 million nonprofit anti-displacement program. Forty-two nonprofits applied by last month’s deadline, according to Joanne Lee, director of consulting services and program development for Northern California Community Loan Fund, the organization selected to administer the city funding.

Half of the applicants are arts groups like Fei Tian Academy of the Arts or Stagewrite. The other half involve social services like AIDS Legal Referral Panel and Breast Cancer Action.

Nonprofits on the verge of displacement or displaced since 2012 can qualify for the funding. Applicants cannot receive rental subsidies, but rather technical assistance in finding new locations or negotiating leases. Groups can also receive funding of up to $75,000 for moving-related costs like permits and architect fees.

Applicant Meridian Gallery and its youth arts program were among those nonprofits displaced, evicted from 535 Powell St. in September after failing to meet the building owner’s terms.

“We’re going to relet it,” said Scott Kirk, a senior manager for property owner USL Management. “[Rent] will be what the market bears.”

Gallery owners Anne Brodzky and husband Tony Williams had fought to remain in place, at least until they found a new location. But they have managed to secure administrative offices in the Presidio, housing its youth arts program at the Shelton Theater on Sutter Street and partnering with a North Beach gallery for its music programming.

This month, Meridian plans to launch a Web series where artists are filmed in their studios, a sort-of virtual exhibit, to maintain their presence and raise money as they look for permanent exhibit space with city assistance.

Another applicant, the Metropolitan Fresh Start House, a nonprofit helping men battling addiction, was outbid on its Bayview location. With “three days to the street” a Sunset homeowner gave them a break and they moved in there, according to a case manager with the nonprofit.

Also looking for help from The City is the Dance Mission Theater, which had its rent increased by $2,200 from $7,800 in July and is on a one-year lease.

“I really was very disappointed that it doesn’t use any money for rent support,” said Krissy Keefer, who runs the theater, suggesting rental subsidies would help weather the boom cycle. But Keefer said she applied hoping the services can help her negotiate a longer term favorable lease.

In January, nonprofit applicants will begin to receive the technical assistance and financial awards are expected in February.

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