Checking In with Tandem, Partners in Early Learning: Perspectives on NonProfit Displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area

A year an a half ago, we launched a blog series called Should We Stay or Should We Go? Perspectives on Nonprofit Displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area. We spoke with nonprofit, foundation, city government and business leaders about the Bay Area's rapidly rising real estate market, and its impact on the social sector. Now, we are checking in with Tandem, Partners in Early Learning, an organization which took part in the original series. Tandem had to relocate due to rising rent costs at their former office space; real estate is a constant consideration for their organization, and has even impacted the way they approach grantseeking. We checked in with Tandem's executive director, Molly Wertz, and development director, Julie Barton. 

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Foundation Center West: How has your organization dealt with the rising cost of real estate in the Bay Area?

Molly Wertz and Julie Barton: We have three locations: our San Francisco office, our Oakland office, and our Concord office.

We sublet space from partners in Oakland, but that building has been bought, and the new landlords are doing major renovations to the space. Our partners are certain they will have to move once their lease is up, and we are, too: we'll both be priced out. So essentially, the same thing that happened to us in San Francisco (that forced us to find our Bayview office) will happen to us in Oakland.

We’ve had to adapt to the real estate by changing some of our organizational strategies: we’ve focused more of our development efforts on raising money to pay for our spaces; and we’ve also reached out and gotten help from the San Francisco Nonprofit Displacement Mitigation Program, as well as the 1+ architecture program.

FCW: How has moving to a new space in San Francisco impacted your organization's work? How has your work evolved and/or changed as a result? Has work in your Oakland office been at all impacted by the rental market?

MW & JB: In San Francisco, we moved from SOMA to the Bayview and are now able to offer programming space for partners. And in Oakland, we are preparing now for our eventual move. These experiences have allowed us to tell our story in a more public way, whether we are talking with potential partners, the staff at the city of San Francisco, or with funders.

The instability of the real estate market has forced us to answer such questions as: “What do we really need from our space? And how can we be more intentional about the space we use? Can we make our office space more conducive to the work that we do?”

FCW: Have you taken on any new projects in your new space? If so, what are they, and why?

MW & JB: At our San Francisco office, we are closer to some of our beneficiaries, now that we’re in the Bayview. We are able to do much more work with partners. We host a cooking class for partners through Edgewood Center for Children and Families’ cooking class for parents  in San Francisco. Edgewood also runs a food pantry program out of our office when they are holding cooking classes. Occasionally Little Opera, a nonprofit that helps kids put on an opera from start to finish, use our space to design and construct their costumes. We also allow nonprofit partners to use our large community space for meetings. And it’s easier for us to hold board and all-staff meetings at our San Francisco office, as we have enough space and don’t have to spend a lot of time finding alternate space. This allows us to spend more time working towards our mission.

And speaking of our mission, we are proud to have designated space to hold our library of diverse and multilingual books in our San Francisco office. Now our staff members don’t have to go offsite to get the books they need for their programmatic work. Before, in our previous space, we didn’t have enough room for our extensive library, so we had to store a lot of books in a storage facility.  

FCW: Despite the fact that the displacement crisis initially impacted your organization negatively in San Francisco, do you believe it has helped Tandem in the long term? If so, why? And if not, why not? How do you anticipate the Oakland move will impact your organization?

MW & JB: We tend to make the best of things. Even though we've moved out to the Bayview, which puts us further from some of our sites and very far from public transit, we still face high costs. We wish that the city of San Francisco would put policies in place that favor established businesses, not just new growth. But while we’ve been able to partner with more organizations, and have a new, custom-designed office in San Francisco, we worry that a “can do,” ever-adaptable attitude towards displacement in the Bay Area just perpetuates these systemic problems. We’ve adapted, but we don’t believe that we, or any other organization or resident, should be resigned to the fact that this is the way the real estate market is now.

FCW: What tips do you have for other Bay Area nonprofits facing displacement?

MW & JB: 

  • Start looking early
  • Really consider what kind of a space would be perfect for your organization. Ask yourself: what does my organization deserve out of a space?
  • Get a broker to help you find space
  • Organize a real estate committee on your board
  • Hire a real estate attorney to review leases and particular laws about zoning

Molly Wertz has worked tirelessly throughout her career to support partnerships between education, nonprofits, and community for the benefit of children and their families. She’s led Tandem since it launched as a 501c3.

Julie Barton joined Tandem in 2013 after six years of development and nonprofit management experience, working for the Harry Potter Alliance and the Philharmonia Orchestra.

If your organization is facing displacement, or if you are curious about how the rise of real estate costs is affecting the social sector, please join us on January 30th for a work shop with NCCLF: Path to Ownership. NCCLF's expert consulting team will discuss organizational capacity as it relates to real estate, review funding and financing options, and provide a window into what it means to be an owner. Participants will come away with a better sense of what the next steps are for their organization’s path to ownership. Register here for the free workshop, Path to Ownership. Register here for a kick-off reception for, NCCLF's new free online space listing tool for nonprofits, immediately following the workshop.