spar over space
by Heather Cassell
The San Francisco AIDS Foundation has found itself in a disagreement with a for-profit therapy collective as it prepares to take over the space in the Castro to house three of its programs.
The SF Therapy Collective, currently located at 474 Castro Street, is losing its lease next spring and SFAF will move in. The collective also has a nonprofit arm, Queer LifeSpace, which is housed in the same building.
SFAF officials said last week that they were unaware that the therapists were in the building until October 19, when they held a meeting with representatives from the group, who asked SFAF to provide $100,000 in relocation costs. The foundation declined.
Since then, supporters of the therapy center have taken to Facebook, posting comments to a story that appeared in last week's Bay Area Reporter about SFAF's plans.
Nancy Heilner, a therapist who co-founded the collective, is executive director of QLS. She estimates it will cost the therapists $95,000 to relocate, which they can't afford.
The nonprofit counseling organization, which provides services to low-income clients, earned less than $25,000 in 2011, according to its 990 IRS filing, and projects its budget to be $60,000 this year, according to Heilner and Stacey Rodgers, QLS's director of communications. There is no room for the expense of relocating.
For the for-profit therapy collective, which was started by four therapists who used to work at New Leaf: Services for Our Community, Heilner said the estimated monthly income is $16,000 and therapists receive $3,000 per month in compensation (before taxes). It serves about 200 clients.
The therapy collective and the nonprofit's lease is up in April. Originally the landlord, George "Jorge" Maumer, wanted QLS to leave as early as late January or February, breaking the lease with the organization, said Heilner and Rodgers. The counseling organization's executives have been able to get a verbal agreement from James Loduca, vice president of public affairs for SFAF, who apparently spoke with Maumer, to allow QLS to stay to the end of its lease, Heilner said.
"We worked so hard to get this space up and running," said Heilner, adding that staff put their "hearts and souls into this place."
"The thought of being so disruptive to our clients and to our training program is just devastating," she continued. "This has just been a huge blow to us."
Loduca told the B.A.R. this week that the foundation would not move in until the landlord delivers the building to it vacant.
SFAF representatives said that they weren't aware of the therapy groups' offices in the building and the lease agreement with Maumer when it signed a 10-year lease with him in late September.
Loduca said that he only became aware of the issue when representatives from the collective scheduled an October 19 meeting with foundation leaders. That was the same day SFAF sent out a news release about its future location, but it did not include anything about the therapy center. The news release did state that Blush Wine Bar, located in the building, would remain.
Loduca insists that it wasn't SFAF's responsibility to find out about the other tenants in the building or their lease agreements with the landlord when agency officials signed the lease.
"As far as we know their lease is expired," said Loduca, who maintained QLS/SFTC's dispute is with the landlord.
"There are leases that begin and end all of the time," he continued. "It seems like the folks at Queer LifeSpace are really upset at us that their lease is expired and it's really puzzling."
Heilner said that QLS/SFTC was told on September 21 that their lease wouldn't be renewed due to a new tenant taking over the building, but the organization's leaders didn't know who the tenant was at the time. Maumer wouldn't provide them with any information.
The news wasn't what the executives of the organization wanted to hear after attempting since May 1 to contact Maumer to negotiate a new three-year lease, according to Rodgers.
Heilner said her team did wonder why Maumer kept putting them off, especially since he knew they wanted to discuss extending their lease, but he had been difficult to reach in the past.
Soon thereafter, the heads of the therapy organization became aware that SFAF was the new tenant through conversations with other tenants and clients who attended an SFAF gala where the location was announced, said Heilner and Rodgers.
In an October 31 email, Maumer said that it was a difficult decision to terminate the leases of his tenants on the second floor of the building. He said that he tried only renting the bottom half, but SFAF's needs were so large that the only way it would work was to rent the entire building, with the exception of Blush.
Maumer also said that after the deal with SFAF was finalized, he personally met with all the tenants and "told them the situation and offered for any of them to move out whenever it is convenient for them."
"That offer alone can cost me several thousand dollars," he said, explaining that if the tenants move out early, he's stuck with empty space for several months until the new tenant moves in.
Maumer also said that he gave QLS/SFTC a discount, charging them only half the rent of what he was getting from the prior tenant "to help them get started."
"That saved them thousands of dollars in the 1.5 years they have been there," he said.
"I feel that they (QLS/SFTC) are truly doing such a great work for the community and I want them to do well and continue their great work," Maumer said. "But at the same time the SFAF is doing incredible work for the community and I was the only building in the heart of the Castro that could accommodate their needs for such a large amount of space."
Heilner said when they learned the identity of the new tenant they were hopeful.
"When we heard that it was the SFAF we thought that they might be able to help us in some way with moving costs and relocation cost," said Heilner.
QLS officials asked Loduca for assistance during their October 19 meeting. Loduca told QLS executives that the SFAF wouldn't be able to assist them financially with relocating, but offered assistance with connecting them to potential real estate brokers and funders.
Loduca told the B.A.R. that it became clear during the meeting that "SF Therapy Collective expects the foundation to cut a check for $100,000 to cover the expenses associated with the expiration of their business lease and relocation of its private and nonprofit practice." Loduca said he explained that the foundation is a direct service organization and not a grant-making foundation.
Loduca also alleged that the therapists described what amounted to blackmail, "when we go to the media and tell them that the big, bad AIDS organization is kicking the tiny queer nonprofit to the curb, it's not going to look good for you."
For her part, Heilner said no threats were ever made, and that the therapy groups were doing fact-finding to see how SFAF operates.
"They aren't a foundation where they can give other nonprofits grants," Heilner said was one of the reasons Loduca gave. The other was that SFAF would be launching its own capital campaign to raise the estimated $7 million for the construction and relocation of its Magnet, Stonewall, and Stop AIDS programs into the new space.
"We are not a funding organization," said Loduca, about the AIDS organization that serves an estimated 14,000 clients and has an annual operating budget of $24 million. "That would put us in a precarious position to cut a check to a for-profit/nonprofit hybrid."
SFAF does grant money to AIDS organizations and groups that have HIV/AIDS programs through various fundraising efforts, most notably the annual AIDS Walk. This year alone SFAF granted more than a quarter million dollars to 36 Bay Area organizations from the AIDS Walk, according to a July 18 news release from SFAF. The largest grants this year were four for $20,000.
The possibility of keeping QLS services in the building and relocating the for-profit SFTC offices to a different location was discussed during the October meeting.
Heilner explained that QLS executives rejected that option because construction at the location would disrupt services for their clients. Also, it would be difficult separating QLS from SFTC as the therapists provide counseling to both paying and low-income clients, making proximity of the offices to juggle appointments important.
In spite of hard feelings on the part of the therapy groups, SFAF officials remain "focused on finding a solution," said Loduca, who is attempting to make the relocation process of both organizations as smooth as possible.
Another meeting with SFAF hasn't been scheduled, but Heilner is in contact with Loduca, who has provided a real estate broker's contact information and is working on other leads, they both said.
Heilner hopes that her team will be able to find a new home for QLS/SFTC in the Castro or Mission neighborhoods as they begin the search, she said.
She is also hopeful that the community will come out to support QLS and the "good work that we are doing," she said.
"We are committed to continuing to provide the services that we do to the community," said Heilner.