Burlingame residents struggling to afford rising rents may look to a fund established by local officials for a little additional assistance during the holiday season.
Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel and Cindy Cornell, an advocate for the rights of local renters, worked with Samaritan House in San Mateo to set up a collection fund of resources set aside to benefit Burlingame renters who are having difficulty affording the escalating cost of living locally.
Contributors to the Burlingame Family Fund can select to make charitable donations toward essential services, holiday gifts or whatever other need they prefer by contacting Samaritan House, a nonprofit service agency.
Nagel said the tremendous need she has seen in the community while collaborating with Cornell’s agency, the Burlingame Advocates for Renter Protections, compelled her to get involved and start the collection fund.
“These people need help now and they are facing a desperate time in the holiday season that won’t be very merry,” she said.
During her time working in the community, Nagel said she has seen residents constantly faced with the difficult decision of using a limited pool of resources to pay for rent, meals, health care or a variety of other essential services.
“It’s a really bad situation,” she said.
Cornell, in an email, echoed many of those sentiments.
“Families, seniors and individuals are desperately trying to stay in their homes, some reporting to us that they are cutting back on food, medication and child care,” Cornell said. “During the holidays, the pain of these rent increases and the prospect of perhaps having to leave one’s home, school, church, and maybe even their job is all the more painful and stressful.”
Nagel said the fund will hopefully help ease the financial strain some of these residents are feeling, during a time of year when many feel especially vulnerable.
She said she has seen the stress of struggling to pay rent drive some residents to the hospital, as they become overcome with grief due to financial hardship.
Offering charity is the least that can be done, Nagel said, since many of the renters in need of assistance have few policies or regulations to protect them.
“We are just targeting this tremendous need we see in our community,” she said.
Once contributions are made to the fund, Nagel said workers at Samaritan House are trusted to distribute the resources appropriately.
“The case workers are very good about selecting those who need help the most,” said Nagel.
Bart Charlow, CEO of Samaritan House, said this is the first time his organization has established a fund for a need specific to a particular community.
“This is an experiment,” he said. “This is a creative thing Mayor Nagel has come up with and we are seeing how this works out.”
But he expressed appreciation to Nagel for coming to the organization with an innovative way to address an issue in her community.
“It’s a wonderful idea,” he said. “We are grateful the mayor has recognized the crisis in her town and wanted personally to do something to help. She knew Samaritan House does this kind of work on a regular basis, and it is a great partnership to see how well this works.”
Nagel said she believes there is an especially large demand for financial assistance in Burlingame because more than half the residents are renters, and the city has recently become an attractive destination for young, well-paid workers, especially in the technology sector, which has driven up the cost of living.
Burlingame voters passed an ordinance which prevents the establishment of rent control, so the hands of officials are frequently tied regarding the efforts they can pursue to offer assistance to those who do not own their homes, said Nagel.
“This is a tough situation,” said Nagel. “Renters are completely at the mercy of peoples’ good will and there is a tremendous incentive for people who own property to jack up the prices.”
In the void of any policy regulating rents in Burlingame, Nagel and Cornell have been working in the interest of some residents facing large rent hikes to negotiate with landlords who may be willing to offer relocation assistance or other compromises to those who can no longer afford their housing cost.
Landlords who are typically detached from the residents renting their property have a tendency to be more compassionate when they meet their tenants and learn more about their lives, said Nagel.
Nagel said she and Cornell decided to establish the charity fund to serve those who the most vulnerable in the community, in an effort to support those who do not have many other lines of defense against the considerable expense of living in Burlingame.
“The least we could do is to funnel help their way,” she said.
Cornell praised Nagel for taking the lead on building the charity campaign.
“Mayor Nagel’s establishment of the Burlingame Family Fund, to be operated and distributed by Samaritan House, will be a godsend for so many newly needy people in Burlingame,” Cornell said.
Nagel said she believed the charity was a worthy effort to help those in need, since no larger policy regulations exist.
“I do think we need to show some compassion for those whose lives have been thrown into turmoil because the cost of living is not regulated in any way,” she said.
Visit donate.samaritanhouse.com/burlingamefund to donate to the Burlingame Family Fund.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105