The study “Nonprofits at Risk: The Space and Occupancy Crisis Facing San Francisco’s Nonprofit Community,” by CompassPoint Nonprofit Services found that 58% of sites rented by nonprofits are at risk of displacement within the next 15 months. 65% of nonprofits that don’t provide direct services are thinking of leaving the City. From the study, this quote: “This lack of price sensitivity on the part of internet entrepreneurs has had a predictable result. Commercial rents in San Francisco have reached staggering heights.”
These findings aren’t surprising. More surprising is the publication date: October 2000.
San Francisco’s nonprofit sector is large and varied, accounting for nearly 8% of total wages. We rely on them to help keep San Francisco the great city it is. And they need places to work. Imagine the city without them: no clinics, few theatres, no places to serve our elderly, homeless, or disabled. If they can’t afford to stay we all lose.
Nimble nonprofits are meeting the challenges. Some are shrinking their own space and subletting to others to share the cost. Others are working in shared space like The Hub on Mission Street or even learning how well they can do without any office space. They are reaching out to resources like the Northern California Community Loan Fund and the Community Arts Stabilization Trust for technical and financial help.
They are partnering with developers. According to the Chronicle, in Mid-Market, a proposed housing and hotel development plans to include permanently affordable performance facilities for the Lorraine Hansberry and Magic theaters, and create affordable space for art education organizations including Youth Speaks, the American Conservatory Theater and All Stars Project.
They are moving into underutilized space, as Lines Ballet did at the Oddfellows Building. Homeless Prenatal Program bought a building, fundraised and now owns it free and clear.
Since the CompassPoint report we have experienced an economic bust, followed by the current boom. Booms can be challenging for nonprofits – but so can busts. During the last bust we saw grants, public funding and audiences shrink. Like everyone else, nonprofits had to scrape by with fewer resources – and for social service agencies the level of need was even higher. San Francisco’s strengths include the creativity of our people, whether that is expressed by tech startups, designers, or artists. Nonprofits need to be creative, too. The smart ones will move past lamentation toward solutions. They will be here through this boom and past the inevitable next bust.