Nonprofits in San Francisco sound alarm over rent increases 

Nonprofits that serve the neediest residents are calling for help as the rapidly rising rents of San Francisco's booming economy, fueled by a thriving tech industry, are threatening these services.

From apartment rentals to downtown office space, real estate costs have soared over the past three years. As nonprofits' leases come up for renewal, they are concerned about having their rents jacked up or leases not renewed as building owners look to cash in.

Jeff Bialik, the executive director of Catholic Charities CYO, offered one example of the financial realities facing nonprofits. The organization's South of Market building at 180 Howard St., which is used for administrative offices and services for immigrants and the homeless, is facing a 50 percent rent increase — from $24 per square foot to $36. That would add an additional $150,000 to $200,000 a year in rent.

Bialik said he's looking for an alternate space, but is having issues. Rents are still high in other locations, or those locations lack public transit access or are too far from the clients the organization serves.

Bialik said high apartment rents have already caused a number of his employees to leave town, which forces them to commute by public transit.

Catholic Charities CYO and others are "becoming a victim" of the success of an economy buoyed by tech firms, Bialik said. "Then it's a question of where do we go?" he added.

Calling it an "urgent need," Supervisor Jane Kim on Tuesday requested a hearing to address the rising commercial rents and their impact on the nonprofit sector. The hearing request builds on a conversation that began 10 years ago during The City's first tech boom, but that was cut short when the local economy tanked after the dot-com bust, Kim said. She wants to explore the same ideas discussed then, such as imposing fees on commercial development impact to help with the costs or providing incentives for property owners to offer below-market rents.

The City has contracts with many nonprofits to provide services, and increases in rents mean either less services or the need to receive more money from The City.

"If The City does nothing to address nonprofit displacement we risk our investment in the arts and in services for low-income residents, youth and seniors, our homeless, and people with disabilities or illnesses," Kim said.

Light shined on streetlights

Supervisor Scott Wiener on Tuesday requested a hearing on broken streetlights in The City, after holding a previous hearing on the subject in June 2012.

San Francisco’s approximately 45,000 streetlights often suffer from burnouts and other failures and are frequently not repaired promptly, according to Wiener’s office. Some 6,000 burnouts are reported each year.

About 26,000 of the lights are maintained by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and the rest are overseen by PG&E. Wiener plans to call on the SFPUC and PG&E to develop a streetlight system geared more toward pedestrians.

“Most San Francisco streetlights are high above the ground and focused on streets, not sidewalks,” Wiener said in a statement. “As a result, many blocks with streetlights nevertheless have dark sidewalks.”

The hearing requested by Wiener will take place before the board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee, but a date was not announced Tuesday.

— Bay City News

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