Affordable Space May Be Within Reach for More Bay Area Nonprofits Thanks to This Investment

Nothing is more expensive than space in San Francisco. Funders of all shapes and sizes have stepped up to support affordable housing efforts for Bay Area residents. Other funders have zeroed on in the challenge of affordable studio space for artists. Well, here's another group getting crushed by high rents: nonprofits, which have found themselves competing with tech startups for scarce office space. Now, a new $6 million effort is giving local organizations a little more hope for staying in the region they serve and affording the rent.

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Mayor Edward Lee made an announcement last month that $6 million will be invested into programs to strengthen the nonprofit sector in San Francisco over the next two years. Mayor Lee said:

Our residents, particularly our most vulnerable, depend on San Francisco nonprofits for services, compassion and inspiration. That’s why I am committed to creating permanently affordable space and investing in the long-term success of these organizations.

About $4.25 million of this money is going into a Nonprofit Space Investment Fund to acquire permanent and affordable work space. The remaining $1.45 million is going into a stabilization program to promote long-term sustainability and about $295,000 towards planning and evaluation for long-term relationship building.

Overall support for capacity building efforts has been strong in the Bay Area lately, as funders come to realize that an organization is only as strong as its leadership and staff. Perhaps the local government is taking a cue from grantmaking foundations in the area, or vice versa. Either way, government and non-governmental parties are collaborating on the local level in a big way toward housing in San Francisco.

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation has been a key player in this effort. For example, the $4.25 million investment fund referenced here draws on the success of the Community Art Stabilization Trust, which leveraged a Rainin Foundation investment to buy two buildings in Central Market and launch a model for the ongoing acquisition of space for arts & culture groups. The mayor’s proposed balanced budget includes funding for new programs that will be made available to all nonprofits including social services, children, youth and their families, and arts & culture.

“Nonprofits need a ready source of capital to act quickly to acquire property in San Francisco’s competitive commercial real estate market,” said Rainin’s director of arts strategy and ventures, Shelley Trott. “We are thrilled the Mayor is investing in permanent homes for nonprofits who serve our communities, and we will continue to work in close partnership with the city to stabilize the sector.”

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Yet, the public sector here isn’t sitting back and making private foundations do all the work and drive the effort. For instance, the local Office of Economic and Workforce Development hired a nonprofit liaison last year to advise local groups about policy measures, technical assistance, and other issues that face nonprofit organizations. Before then, San Francisco never had such a position in local government. At least 100 groups have used this liaison for assistance so far.

But ultimately, the big goal is to help San Francisco nonprofits stay in the city and even expand their operations and programming. To tap into this newfound support, a good place to start is the Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s nonprofit page. Local nonprofit space supporters, like the Rainin Foundation, are good to get familiar with as well.