The charity and landlord of the San Bernardino buildings out of which Project Fighting Chance has operated the past several years contends the nonprofit was asked to vacate the premises by Aug. 31 because it refused to negotiate a lease agreement with fair and equitable terms.
Under a Memorandums of Understanding, or MOU, between the two parties, Project Fighting Chance, which runs after-school programs for at-risk youth, has paid Home of Neighborly Services of San Bernardino $500 a month the past two years for access to its Union Street headquarters.
While set to end in 2023, rising overhead costs – such as utilities, program costs, fuel and wages – have made the deal untenable, according to a three-page letter Home of Neighborly Services sent to this news organization.
It is unclear who exactly penned the letter.
“Costs, repairs, and expenses paid by HNS (Home of Neighborly Services) over the course of the relationship add up to far more than the amount of rent paid by PFC (Project Fighting Chance) during that time,” the letter reads. “HNS is a charity, with a community-oriented mission. To continue to substantially subsidize PFC, as NHS has been doing, would prevent HNS from accomplishing its basic purpose for existing.”
From 2017 to 2020, Project Fighting Chance occupied the two buildings on San Bernardino’s westside rent-free, despite market rate being about $1,700 a month, according to Home of Neighborly Services.
While Project Fighting Chance agreed to pay utilities, those payments were sporadic and very late, the letter contends, requiring Home of Neighborly Services board members to cover the costs themselves. Additionally, in the past two years, Home of Neighborly Services has repaired water damage, the air conditioning unit, electrical circuits and plumbing.
The charity attempted to negotiate a $100-per-month rent increase in June 2021, according to the letter, but Project Fighting Chance “flatly refused.”
In an interview Monday, Aug. 15, Terry Boykins, executive director of Project Fighting Chance, said the nonprofit pays the water and electric companies directly, and any delay in payment to Burrtec for waste collection occurred because Home of Neighborly Services did not forward the bill to Project Fighting Chance promptly.
Furthermore, the nonprofit did not have the money in its budget to accommodate paying $100 more per month, Boykins said.
“We were in COVID, and being in COVID, as everyone was, we weren’t getting any significant money,” Boykins added. “We had fixed costs. We’d established operating costs, and an extra $1,200 (a year in rent), plus making payroll, was really not something we could pull off.”
Approximately $15,000 in rent has been collected by Home of Neighborly Services since Project Fighting Chance took occupancy of the buildings in 2017, the letter maintains.
Repairs and late utility payments have exceeded $18,000.
After consulting with legal counsel, Home of Neighborly Services informed Project Fighting Chance in a July 1 email that the parties’ MOU would end July 31. The charity included a new proposed lease, offering a monthly rental rate of $1,500.
Though given the opportunity, Project Fighting Chance declined to present a counter by Aug. 1, according to the letter.
In light of the initial email, Boykins said the nonprofit attempted to schedule a time to meet Home of Neighborly Services representatives, either virtually or in person, to address the situation, but received no response.
“They ghosted us,” Boykins said.
Home of Neighborly Services subsequently sent a notice of termination of tenancy, requiring Project Fighting Chance vacate the premises by Aug. 31.
“If HNS did not attempt to change the situation, the Home would have continued to suffer financially,” the letter reads. “We would have to close our doors.”
Despite operating on a budget of less than $30,000, Home of Neighborly Services serves up to 120 families weekly with its Friday Food Distribution, the letter states.
“If we can’t keep our doors open,” the letter continues, “those families miss out on this critical resource.”
Project Fighting Chance is willing to continue operating under the three-year, $500-per-month agreement signed in 2020, Boykins said Monday. He added that increasing access fees at this time jeopardizes the nonprofit’s goal of propelling a prized local youth boxer to represent the United States at the 2024 Olympics.
“HNS wishes nothing but the best for PFC,” Home of Neighborly Services wrote in closing. “HNS is simply exercising its legal right to terminate a business relationship that is one-sided and is detrimental to HNS.”