Hard Times Continue for Bay Area Service Providers

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February 10, 2016; San Francisco Chronicle

The continuing pressure of rising rents on nonprofits in Bay Area communities seems to be taking another victim. This week, the San Francisco Chronicle reports on the plight of the Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth Soup Kitchen, which provides food to homeless individuals. In “Nuns who help needy face eviction in S.F.’s Tenderloin,” reporter Kevin Fagan reports on the increasing financial pressure that is effectively evicting the nuns from the community they serve.

The nuns are in danger of becoming as homeless as the downtrodden folks they help—the landlord is evicting them. He raised their rent by more than 50 percent, they can’t afford it, and the lawyers are fighting it out. It looks like the nuns have about one month before they must hit the bricks. And practically everyone whose lives they have touched is incensed, from the hungry homeless to those who run other nonprofits.

Mr. Fagan’s article notes that the Sisters are part of a larger problem facing Bay Area faith-based nonprofits. The article quotes Michael Pappas, head of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, who described the nuns’ plight as “symptomatic of a larger issue, the dilemma of the displacement of nonprofits who help the poor all over the city.” Pappas’ organization is made up of a dozen leading nonprofits, including Episcopal Community Services and Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. Members are reporting downsizing staffs and moving to cheaper, smaller facilities.

Last year, NPQ covered the displacement of Not In Our Town (NIOT), a national nonprofit working to stop hate and bullying that’s based in nearby Oakland. NIOT’s director went on KQED radio to expose the financial pressures on her organization, which, she says, occurred because of rising rents in the wake of the development of a new headquarters for Uber. Since that story, a public interest law firm, Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC), which represents people in eviction, found itself forced to move in the face of high rent increases. Unlike NIOT or EDC, the nuns don’t have the option of moving to a cheaper location because the Soup Kitchen’s customers are located in the same community from which the nuns must leave. It could be that forcing the nuns to move is a way to move the homeless. , except that in this case it’s the law of supply and demand, not a municipal ordinance, forcing the change.

Maybe the arts community can show the way for nonprofits fighting poverty.  The Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) was created to purchase and lease space for nonprofit arts organizations using funding from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation. Of course, there’s a common interest between the affluent newcomers (the audience) and the arts organizations. It’s not so clear that organizations supporting low-income people will find the same kind of capital support for their workspaces.—Spencer Wells