Losing our conscience

Rising commercial rents squeezing San Francisco's nonprofits

Debbie Lerman, who runs the Human Services Network, raised concerns about nonprofits getting forced from the city.
Guardian photo by Tim Daw


An eviction epidemic is forcing many San Franciscans from their homes: artists in Mid-Market and the Mission, the Lee family on Jackson Street, and scores of families in the city.

The newest victims of the tech boom's ever rising rents are San Francisco nonprofit organizations — many of whom take care of San Franciscans in need, and who now find themselves in need.

A report released by the Budget and Legislative Analyst office on Oct. 9 showed commercial rents for nonprofits increased as much as 33 percent in the last two years, with annual rent increases as high as $20,000 for small offices and $200,000 for large spaces. When it comes time for nonprofits to renew their leases, many find they are at prices they can't afford.

Those nonprofits may need to close, or find the services they render to the city drastically cut.

At the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing where the report was released, more than 50 nonprofit representatives came up to the podium pleading for help.

"We're committed to staying in SF, but I'm forced to present a lease to my board of directors on a hope and a prayer," said Nancy Nielsen, the deputy director of Lutheran Social Services of Northern California. And she's not alone.

There are 6,005 nonprofits in San Francisco, which is 4.1 percent of all nonprofits in California, according to the report. Of those, 1,425 contract with the city, acting as pseudo-city agencies providing health care, help for the homeless, housing aid, legal help, education, and many other services San Franciscans depend on.

The city pays $528.8 million annually for these services. Essentially, raising rents on nonprofits is a hit on San Francisco's investments, potentially costing city taxpayers more to maintain the same level of service.

"I want to say it's an alarming report, a bleeding of our nonprofit sector," said Sup. Eric Mar, one of the three supervisors on the committee. "We're in danger of losing the heart of our city with artists, and the conscience of our city with housing and legal nonprofits."

Many of the nonprofits that came up to speak detailed the thousands of people they serve. Nielsen's Lutheran Social Services helped 5,000 San Franciscans stay housed, she said. Jessica Robinson Love of Counter Pulse helped more than 4,000 artists find a space to work and showcase their pieces.

When some tried to relocate, they couldn't find spaces at an affordable rate because the vacancies in San Francisco have shrunk to alarming degrees, according to the report. Sara Shortt, director of the Housing Rights Committee, said she communicates with many nonprofits, and the places they could afford were subpar at best.

"The types of buildings they found were so decrepit they couldn't afford to fix them," Shortt said.

Many nonprofits had similar stories. Carla Laurel of the West Bay Pilipino Multi Service Center said that the rents her group found around San Francisco were more than its entire operating budget.

There are few places left for nonprofits to go. The bulk of the city's 75 million square feet of commercial space is located between Market and SoMA, the report says.

Most of those nonprofits can't do their work outside the city, said Debbi Lerman, administrator of the Human Services Network.

"Keep in mind they work in partnership with their neighborhoods," she said. "You can't take an organization meant to serve San Francisco and move it to Oakland."


Why can't they be out in the Avenues or down in Bayview.

The thing with being a non-profit is that you do not expect to have fancy digs. Nothing complicated or sinister about this.

Or maybe the problem is that the city has too many non-profits, as Marcos is always arguing.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

Thereby making it much easier and more effective to coordinate with both other nonprofits, and the people that they are working to help.

It is also important to be near City Hall so that they have better access to public officials and agencies.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 4:28 pm

where they will be just 10-20 minutes from City Hall and downtown SF.

And with all the rent they save, they can be more effective. You've convinced me.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

Ummm, the City funds nonprofits to provide services to homeless and low-income and other vulnerable people in the Tenderloin and SOMA. So how successful will those efforts be if the nonprofits have to move to the Avenues, Daly City or Oakland? Should homeless people ride BART to Daly City? You have to provide the services where the people are.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

Why would non-profits be any different? Are you suggesting that they are far less efficient and effective?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 5:39 pm
Posted by dfmgndk on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:31 am
Posted by hlkishferikuh on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:47 am
Posted by dfmgndkr on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:29 am
Posted by hlkishferiku on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:48 am

It's inevitable when the city of 50 miles wide.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 10:27 am

tro haplessly responds

hee hee heee

Posted by fkgf on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 10:32 am

(and then there will be no one to make our cake for us.....)

Posted by dfmgndkri on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:27 am

if we don't wise up

Posted by hlkishferik on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:49 am

I fully agree with you that transit access and coordination are critical. However, wouldn't consolidation of non-profit agencies help streamline back office functions and there by both increase coordination and efficiency?

Transit is an issue that those of us that live in the Bayview have to deal with constantly. Rather than spending money on high rents, investing that money in transit access for the Bayview would help a larger number of people.

Posted by The Hard Truth on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 5:46 pm

So your transit needs are all sewn up.

There is no need for a low-budget non-profit to have high-rent offices.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

which takes frigging forever to get all the way out to sunnydale let alone even 3rd and evans

the bayview needs a *lot* more transit

Posted by racer x on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

Having its own streetcar was a politically correct gesture and not a prudent transportation decision.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 5:25 am

when it is just common sense and a good way to run a city

Posted by dfm on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:39 am
Posted by hlkishferi on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:51 am

economy can support it. The T-streetcar was a political boondoggle and is not justified by the economic benefit.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 10:28 am
Posted by rksdfhjgknc on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 10:41 am
Posted by dfmg on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:37 am


Posted by hlkishfer on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:52 am

Bayview is, if anything, over-served for transportation options compared with many more economically-active parts of the city.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 10:29 am

ain't that nice :)

Posted by rksdfhjgkn on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 10:42 am
Posted by dfmgn on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:36 am
Posted by hlkishfe on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:52 am
Posted by dfmgnd on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:33 am


Posted by hlkishf on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:53 am
Posted by dfmgndkrif on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:26 am


Posted by hlkish on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:54 am

Much of the Mid-Market space we're talking about here wasn't prime real estate when these non-profits moved in. These blocks were blighted and crime-ridden. The non-profits moved in and invested their limited money and time into building homes there, shaping the spaces and building community. Now that the neighborhood is on the rise, these folks are being told it's now "prime real estate" and doesn't belong to them.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

There are other low-rent areas that they could relocate to, and where they might feel more comfortable.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

more comfortable, maybe he would be more comfortable if he, moved somewhere where people agree with his economic bigotry

Posted by d on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:42 am
Posted by hlkis on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:55 am

Nearly everything below this wall is abusive pointless troll abuse. Don't bother....

Posted by pnfeb on Oct. 19, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

should not then be kicked out of that place (obvious)

Posted by df on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:40 am
Posted by hlkis on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:57 am

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:53 am
Posted by hlk on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 10:05 am
Posted by dfmgndkrifu on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:24 am

that's what i'm talkin' about

Posted by hlki on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 10:00 am

The nonprofit experiment has been a bust. Keep those dollars in the public sector where the government delivers those services with a modicum of accountability that we don't generally see in the nonprofits.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 6:24 pm

see far superior results when staff are motivated.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 5:26 am

People dont ever lump nonprofit service providers in with transportation or water when it comes to privatization, but despite their big hearts, that's exactly what they are: privatized public services. Bring them back into the public sector where rents wont be a problem, and accountability, wages and working conditions will undoubtedly be better.

Hoping to stop commercial rent increases is a far more fantastic idea

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

The city has to rents lots of private offices and properties, and pays a market rent like anyone else.

Rents are what they are. If you cannot afford them then do not try and run with the big dogs, but find more modest digs further out of town.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

this is simply a barrier against trolls

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation into repetitive reactionary hyperbole, and/or petty, mean spirited personal attacks and irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by racer x on Oct. 16, 2013 @ 2:12 pm


Posted by Guest on Oct. 15, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

Official Dogma of the San Francisco Rent Control Cult
1. Landlords are more evil than child molesters, serial killers and rapists… COMBINED!
2. We demonize landlords to make it socially acceptable to strip them of their property and keep it exclusively for our personal use. (Just as the Nazi's started out doing to the Jews)
3. We use the canard of "compassion" to attempt to shame and make others believe it's amoral to use,control and benefit from their legally owned property. That by letting us steal their property they magically become "good" people. (this does not work well with anyone who has intelligence, but luckily for us there are plenty who don't.). If they object to our striping them of their of their lawfully owned property, we slander them as "bad" people.
4. Rent Controlled tenants (only) have special privileges that cannot be denied FOR ANY REASON. Just our undeniable magnificence makes the city a far superior place and therefore our special and exclusive price controls, are deserved and can never be removed FOR ANY REASON!, even if State Law allows it.
5. People who work and create technologies are worth less and have far less rights than our privileged selves and should not even consider living in OUR city (even though we actually OWN nothing). WE WERE HERE FIRST, so just go back to Mexi.. opps, we mean Cupertino.
6. For us GREED is a one way street, owners who want the legally obtained financial harvest from their property are GREEDY, GREEDY pigs, while we conniving converters of valuable property owned by someone else, are never GREEDY, GREEDY, we just want what is obviously ours by the divine right of our extra special greatness.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 12:26 pm

Dear SF Tenants,

As your mayor I must advise you that your housing unit is worth from three to ten times more when it's converted to a TIC compared to remaining as a rent-controlled apartment. You and your family will be evicted shortly so that the current building owners can make even more millions from your rental unit by seling the units off to new TIC owners.

Please do not make any long -term plans to stay in the city unless your family income is at least 200% of the Area Medium Income because you will not find any replacement housing in San Francisco to fit your family income. Even if your income is at the highest levels, there is very little housing anyway for rent or puchase unless you can bribe a current building owner to let you have one of their few open units. (As a helpful hint, giving sexual favors to building owners can sometimes help if you're short a few thousand for the bribe.)

Begin your apartment searching immmediately since you could get the eviction notice any day now. Start looking at Tracy, Fairfield, Stockton, Santa Rosa or King City for housing that will better match your family income. (Sorry if you have to buy a car to get to work in the future, but life isn't fair when you don't make an income within the top 10%. Hopefully you've learned by now that San Francisco is for only the economic winners, and if your income is in the bottom 90%, you just don't fit in with the new direction the city is going.)

On behalf of the Board of Supervisors and all of the city family departments (who honestly never really cared about you anyway), Best Wishes on your new housing or homelessness far away from the gilded streets of San Francisco!

Please offer my deepest condolences and congratulations to your family, but hopefully the Buddists are right and there is Reincarnation, and you and your family won't be such economic losers the next go round.


Mayor Edwin Lee

Posted by Guest on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

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