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Oakland LGBTQ Center Takes Control of its Lease

by Seth Hemmelgarn

Oakland's LGBTQ Community Center is now the master tenant of its lease and looking for other nonprofits to sublet its space.
Oakland's LGBTQ Community Center is now the master tenant of its lease and looking for other nonprofits to sublet its space.  

Oakland's LGBTQ Community Center has taken over the entire space that it had been sharing.

While the development means the rent has almost doubled just four months after the center opened, executive director Joe Hawkins said he's confident the nonprofit will thrive.

"It's going to be a struggle, but I think the community here in Oakland is up to it. I really do, based on what we've seen thus far," said Hawkins. "People are very supportive."

When the center opened in September on the second floor of a commercial building near Lake Merritt, it shared space with and paid rent to "Co-Munity," a co-working site for small businesses and startups. About a month ago, though, the center learned that the communal workspace operator was being evicted for failing to pay rent.

The LGBT center, which provides support groups and other services, initially worried it would become homeless, but after negotiating with the property owner, it became the entire space's primary operator and lease holder.

The monthly rent has gone from $5,000 to $9,000, leaving a gap of about $3,000 in what the center is able to pay per month. Groups already in the building include queer perinatal services and a media organization, and Hawkins said he hopes to add other nonprofits and small businesses as tenants to make up the difference.

The center is looking at charging about $500 a month, he said, noting that many Bay Area nonprofits are struggling to pay rent.

"We really want to include as many queer nonprofits as possible," said Hawkins. "Our goal as a center is to be a hub of queer activity."

With approximately $40,000 in the bank, he said the nonprofit center has enough money to pay its rent for three to four months. Hawkins is optimistic that the center will be able to expand its estimated $150,000 budget now that it's able to participate in the new grant funding cycle for 2018. Last month the LGBT center won a $5,000 general operations grant from the Horizons Foundation, the Bay Area-focused LGBT philanthropic organization, to help it keep its doors open.

"Actually, we're in a better position to apply for funding as the sole operator of the space," since the LGBT center now has "total control of the building" and can include more programing.

Except for a CPA and a bookkeeper who work on a contractual basis, Hawkins and others who work for the nonprofit are all volunteers. In an email to supporters last week, he said the center's drawn more than 1,500 visitors and nearly 600 volunteers since it opened in September.

Over the last four months, it has offered numerous workshops, get-togethers, and other activities. In November it held a Transgender Day of Remembrance observance and Thanksgiving dinner, while last month the center was open Christmas Day in the afternoon.

The Oakland center was one of two that opened last year, as San Mateo County officials also opened their own LGBT community center. Unlike the San Mateo County Pride Center, located at 1021 South El Camino Real in San Mateo, the Oakland center is not staffed by Alameda County.

Adding to the Oakland center's needs, Hawkins said the Co-Munity operator, who didn't respond to interview requests, took all of her furniture, leaving the center with almost none. The center is seeking donated chairs, file cabinets, computers and other furnishings for the facility.

The Lakeshore Avenue property's owner couldn't be reached for comment, and Hawkins declined to share their information. The building is located at 3207 Lakeshore Avenue (enter on Rand Avenue).


For information about donating to the center or becoming a tenant, go to www.oaklandlgbtqcenter.org

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