By Dcoetzee (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

April 22, 2017; San Francisco Chronicle

Over the past decade, some of the nonprofits that fled San Francisco due to skyrocketing rent costs resettled in Oakland. (Last year, we wrote about this forced movement in a newswire covering a study of the out-of-sight commercial rents in the area.) Now, they’re finding the problem has followed them across the bay and some are preparing to pack up and move again.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that hikes in commercial rents are forcing dozens of nonprofits, both refugees from San Francisco and ones native to Oakland, out of downtown. Many signed leases when building vacancies were high and the local economy was climbing up from the depths of the recession. With their agreements now expiring, organizations are seeing their rents nearly double. Some are trying to shrink their space needs, but still more are moving out.

Oakland’s nonprofit sector has grown over the past six years in terms of numbers of jobs, receiving groups like the Sierra Club from San Francisco and the Greenlining Institute from Berkeley. Greenlining has taken a different approach to the problem, developing a building that will rent space to other nonprofits. So far, the building’s tenants include Oakland Citizens Committee for Urban Renewal, AnewAmerica, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, the Insight Research Center, and Post News Group. But that takes capital.

According to a survey by Harder + Company of 497 nonprofit organizations that operate 846 locations across Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, 82 percent are concerned about the high-priced real estate market or their “long-term financial sustainability.” Most of the nonprofit respondents—68 percent—said they face the chance of moving in the next five years, mostly because of affordability.

At this point, the city considers native nonprofits the priority. “When you’re talking about city intervention or assistance, we don’t want to be casting a wide net,” said Marisa Raya, a city analyst. “We want to be specific about identifying organizations that have been in Oakland a long time.” Nonprofits serving and representing minorities and low-income populations have felt the impact of the forces of displacement most.

City officials have encouraged many nonprofits and foundations to co-locate, to buy their buildings, or try to secure long-term leases. But, for many groups, these solutions are not feasible—and, as with many cities, some locations just make more sense for programmatic reasons:

Nonprofit leaders say the downtown corridor along Telegraph Avenue and Broadway, between the downtown BART stations, is optimal for the work they do because it’s accessible by public transportation and close to city and county buildings to which they can refer clients. For nonprofits that serve youth from warring neighborhoods, downtown is one of the few communal places for them to come together.

“If you want a neutral area where all kids feel safe, where they don’t have a territory on their back, you have it in a central area,” said Nyeisha DeWitt, founder of Oakland Natives Give Back, which fights chronic absenteeism in schools. “That’s what downtown is, not just for kids but for their families. Parents have the same generational baggage and the same implications.”

—Ruth McCambridge