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."


house everyone who wants to live in the world's favorite city at a rent that suits their budget regardless of how low that is?

Has reality been suspended in SF, such that money bears no relationship to how good a life you can have.

Frankly, some of these people would be better suited to the East Bay. That's just reality.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

But we're too good for the East Bay.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

"Too dumb for New York and too ugly for LA".

Posted by Guest on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 2:53 pm

Is that true for you?

Posted by Guest on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 4:09 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 17, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

As a side benefit, as these communists are replaced by sane people, San Francisco's politics improve

Posted by Guest on Oct. 19, 2013 @ 10:45 am

Jason Grant Garza here oh wow, wow, wow ... " Lerman went to Sup. Jane Kim with her concerns, prompting the supervisor to call for the hearing." A HEARING imagine that ... not ANOTHER like the prior HEARING in which I could NOT even get PROPER followup FROM the Supervisor KIM for the EVIDENCE needed for the HEARING. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xtqja9Up02A , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DogpfAUdBg4 . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7GI9YAElnk , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6Vw1f9OMLU and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K37J2PCKDA . Amazing as of today I still HAVE NOT got a response from either KIM or MAR.

Shall we speak of the Sheriff, the dead person at SF General and the fact that the Sheriff is the LAPDOG for DPH? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYC-syG0D7Y
or the fact that they WILL NOT TAKE my complaint in regard to their deputy's brutal assault on me for seeking MEDICAL SERVICES and CARE at DPH https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCuMwXVxADk

Oh and for the wonderful Asst. Sheriff ... look at the videos ... he tells me I can videotape ... and his deputies tell me I can not and escort me out ... ha,ha,ha.

Oh don't forget to watch the videos to see what I get from SFPD, the Chief of Police, Police Commission ... then watch the city agencies' handling ... (Occ, HRC,MOD)

Now, I would love to tell you about the NON-PROFITS that I have been to help ... cue the "LAUGHTER TAPE" ....

Keep Drinking the KOOL-AID.

Posted by Jason Grant Garza on Oct. 19, 2013 @ 10:05 pm

Wow. Progressives are REALLY close minded. Anything even remotely inconsistent with the approved group think, and it is immediately labeled "troll" material.

Soooo weak.

Learn how to deal with alternative viewpoints. The way this site reinforces its own ideology makes FOX look like an objective outlet.

Being a progressive in San Francisco is about as unique as being a Mormon in Salt Lake City. Congrat, you're a sheep.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 20, 2013 @ 9:31 pm

is that we've already debated these same exact juvenile right wing statements several hundred times each, over the last several years, and we are fucking sick of it

if you idiots would actually come up with new and unique ideas (however weak) we would at least give them a couple of rounds of responses

but this endless inane broken record crap has become utterly intolerable

Posted by racer x on Oct. 20, 2013 @ 9:53 pm

MEOW! Lighten up Francis, curse words just demonstrate a poor vocabulary.

No, it's not a lack of new or unique ideas that is at issue. Its is the fact that the proposals that actually work will not be tolerated by close minded progressive politics.

In the immediate case, progressives simply refuse to acknowledge the basic economic evidence that demonstrates that rent control distorts the market and ultimately leads to higher rents across the population.

BTW, I'm a native. Unless you were born here, YOU ARE a carpetbagger and your opinions are less valid. Particularly when it comes to topics such as gentrification and rent. FACT.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 20, 2013 @ 10:20 pm

fuck off you joke-ass dipshit mother fucker
you couldn't effectively debate your way out of wet paper sack

accordingly your comments do not warrant a fucking response

is that polite enough for you


Posted by racer x on Oct. 20, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

Once again, Racer X proves that his civility, insight, and complete resistance to irony are the indispensable weapons in his epic battle against trolls. Your mom is calling, Racer. She's fallen and she can't get up.

Posted by Chromefields on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:05 am

No one believes that there are rent deals. You pay 16-18 per ft you don't bitch but have already accepted the fact that you are in the very worst part of town. Not to mention the fact that the area will be more populated by folks in desperate need with no neighborhood jobs compounding issues on multiple levels. ie... Looks ok from your house huh. I'm not an outsider. I have been literally right where they feel the best building for them to rent is. Obviously Nancy hasn't spent more than a few hrs at one time in the area. Ask the TARC folks what a rude awakening it was. After all the bitching about money you've done its hard to believe you are any more gun ho about helping folks than TARC. If there is 24 hr security, a live on site managerial presence, someone who actually gets to know the neighbors, doesn't keep anything of particular value on site, installs bigger gates on the windows and doors on the GG ave side of building, pays the dealers on the upper and lower corners to please allow employees to park without having cars looted,(easy to find car watcher for about 20 bucks an afternoon) this is after you've paid 4 bucks an hr for the meter your at on GG or leavenworth. Why would any religious affiliated organization want to put a shingle out where there are about to unless they are makin a bunch of money from city allocated funds or just need to show a gigantic loss. Besides everyone in the neighborhood knows st Tonys rules the roost. I have been there for 17 years. Hear every 2-3 that neighborhood is gettin better. And believe me I am a huge fan of smiles and optimism. Just not a fan of wishful thinking. Never really is. The day I don't walk behind my car and step in a pile of people crap, kick a hypodermic needle out of the way, tell the guys next door "no thanks I don't want any dope"(for the millionth time), not have to worry about my car being broke into(196 vehicles on leavenworth between Mcallister and GG ave alone last year...check it), have to give a pair of pants and a shirt to someone so naked and wasted that they can't get out of my door way I think are still a long time coming.

Posted by Guest Maemo on Dec. 17, 2013 @ 12:58 am

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