“We don’t pay nonprofits in a timely fashion that serve our vulnerable communities,” said Desley Brooks
The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee is seeking to come to grips with a less understood part of the city’s ongoing displacement crisis – the steady economic pressure that is driving out the nonprofit agencies that operate on the ground providing services to low income Oaklanders in need.
At its meeting last week, the CED heard a staff report that documented the impact of the high costs commercial rental market, finding that “due to rising office rents, some local nonprofits have been forced to relocate or are facing displacement pressure.”
Speaking at the CED meeting, Councilmember Brooks said displacement pressures facing nonprofits were partly due to the out-of-control commercial rental market but should also be attributed to the city’s failure to promptly pay the nonprofits with contracts to provide services for youth, unemployed, low income, formerly incarcerated and those who were homeless or living in precarious conditions.
“The report tells half the story: our nonprofits are being pushed out because rents are too high,” Brooks said. (But) we exacerbate the situation by creating a crisis culture in that we don’t pay the nonprofits in a timely fashion that serve our vulnerable communities.”
The Oakland Private Industry Council (PIC), which operates job centers and job training programs, was at one point owed almost $1 million by the city, said Brooks.
“We didn’t ask (PIC) to stop doing the work,” said Brooks. “We just didn´t pay (PIC) in a timely fashion.”
“We talk about gentrification and displacement, but I think these are just buzzwords because we aren’t doing the steps that are necessary to slow (them) down,” she said.
“The reality is that we are helping to displace the very organizations that we need in order to get the work done,” said Brooks. “We have the ability to make some meaningful changes so we can keep the very organizations so they can serve the communities we say we all want to serve.”
Gay Plair Cobb talked about the work that PIC has been doing for jobseekers for decades at 1212 Broadway in downtown Oakland.
“We have been at the same location for almost 20 years now,” she said. “Our rent has probably quintupled over that period of time. As you are well aware, public resources have not quintupled.”
She asked councilmembers to take a stand to protect the agencies that serve Oaklanders.
“I’m asking you to actually own this issue in a very critical way because nonprofits are really up against the wall,” said Cobb.
Without the work of the nonprofits, the city would be in a poor position to keep low-income residents from being displaced, she said.
According to the staff report, dated March 20, the “issue of nonprofit displacement has become an increasing concern over the last two years as Oakland´s office real estate market has tightened. The most dramatic impacts have been in the downtown area, where office rents have increased by 80 percent since 2014 while vacancy has fallen below five percent.”
In addition, the report said, “New businesses have relocated to Oakland, and many downtown buildings have been renovated in order to attract new tenants at higher lease rates.”
During the same time, some large nonprofits have moved into downtown Oakland, including the Sierra Club, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and California Rural Legal Assistance and the Greenlining Institute.
The report cited a survey conducted by Northern California Grantmakers that 58 Oakland-based nonprofits had recently relocated. Of these, 44 percent listed costs as one of their reasons.
Of 181 nonprofits in Oakland, 86 or 48 percent anticipated having to make a decision about relocation in the next five years. Of these, 41 or 48 percent stated that cost was the main reason they anticipated relocation
“Nonprofits have responded to rent increases in a variety of ways, including relocating, closing, laying off staff, shifting operating funds to pay for higher rents or fundraising to secure long term leases or building purchases,” according to the city staff report.
The CED committee voted unanimously to continue the discussion about what to do to reduce displacement of Oakland’s nonprofit organizations.