Moy Eng, On Keeping San Francisco Rents Affordable For Artists

By Richard Scheinin
San Jose Mercury News.

SAN FRANCISCO

With one-bedroom apartments renting for $4,000 a month, San Francisco is no longer a city that artists and arts groups can afford to call home.

In steps Moy Eng and CAST, the Community Arts Stabilization Trust. It’s a nonprofit that purchases properties for arts groups, then arranges affordable leases and buy-back plans for them. An offshoot of the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, which seeded CAST with $5 million three years ago, it is already having an impact on the city’s arts scene and stands as an innovative model for other communities.

A classically trained singer who has spent her professional life directing and funding arts groups on both coasts, Eng recently spoke to the San Jose Mercury News about CAST’s mission to keep San Francisco safe for artists. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Will you describe CAST’s goals?

A: CAST got started because artists and arts organizations are being driven out of San Francisco because of the high demand and high prices for real estate. It’s a beautiful city, an amazing place to live, but there’s only so much real estate. And so we’re seeing this exodus of arts groups, and we’re starting to lose the cultural identity of the place.

We’re losing one of the very reasons that people want to move here in the first place, because of the city’s unique and incredible diversity of arts and culture.

With CAST, I hope we can start to mitigate some of the erosion. I don’t want to oversell it, but it’s a pretty cool solution.

Q: How does it work?

A: We’ve taken some innovative models and financial vehicles that are being used in other fields, affordable housing models, environmental land trusts, and we’re applying them in the arts and culture sector. We are in effect a nonprofit real estate and holding company for these groups. We acquire the space, we aim to match an arts organization with the right space. We then finance the property and lease it back to the arts organization at a below-market lease rate. Later, they get to buy it back at the same price for which we purchased it.

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