The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC) was founded in 1981 to achieve two ambitious and intertwined visions: to transform the lives of the poor and marginalized residents of unsafe and poorly maintained housing in the Tenderloin District, and to protect the Tenderloin District from the seemingly inevitable gentrification that then loomed over the neighborhood.
To address the aspirations and need of residents, TNDC began to purchase buildings, ensuring the buildings’ long-term affordability by removing them from the speculative market. The overall vision was more ambitious: TNDC would foster a series of cooperatively-owned and managed communities. Tenant organizers set to work as soon as TNDC acquired the first buildings.
To protect the neighborhood, TNDC joined with other community activists to oppose the development of three luxury hotels proposed for the eastern edge of the neighborhood — harbingers of a future in which dramatic numbers of low-income residents would be displaced by high-rise developments and rising property values. While pursuing the cooperative model on a building-by-building basis, TNDC and its allies developed a unique solution on the neighborhood scale, one of the nation’s first “community benefits agreements,” wherein the hotels contributed millions to fund affordable housing and job creation for Tenderloin District residents. In addition, the activists’ work led to a down-zoning of the neighborhood that limited building heights and uses.
With grants from Franciscan Charities, the new organization quickly purchased four buildings, preserving nearly 300 units of affordable housing and beginning the process of coop development. Although the goal of cooperative ownership was abandoned as unworkable in 1989, TNDC tenants now stood on a solid foundation of affordable rents, greatly improved living conditions, and protection from unwarranted evictions.
After acquiring eight buildings (450 units) between 1981 and 1988, TNDC focused exclusively on major capital improvements within its existing portfolio. Beginning in 1993, the focus once again turned to expansion. Under the leadership of Executive Director Brother Kelly Cullen, TNDC grew significantly, nearly tripling its number of housing units and employees over the ensuing decade. When Cullen departed in 2005, TNDC had become one of the most prolific community-based developers in the country.
In 2009, TNDC absorbed the San Francisco affordable housing portfolio of a sister organization, Citizens Housing Corporation. TNDC’s portfolio grew by 30% (six properties totaling 540 units), strengthening the organization through the efficiencies of scale and further diversification. We also took over the development of three new projects.
TNDC understood early on the critical importance of integrating housing with services, and became a national pioneer in supportive housing. Beginning with a contract with an established service provider in 1993, TNDC social work staff now offer housing-based, voluntary support services throughout the portfolio. We work in close partnership with other specialized service providers, and with governmental agencies pursuing parallel goals. 1993 also saw the establishment of TNDC’s Tenderloin After School Program (TASP), serving children ages 5-17.
In 2007, TNDC hired its first community organizer, deepening the organization’s commitment to activism. The department has steadily grown, supporting tenant leadership, advocating for affordable housing, and working to establish Community Benefits Agreements with businesses expanding into the Mid-Market area – a return to TNDC’s original efforts. Most recently, we have established community gardens in a number of TNDC properties (as well as in a vacant lot near City Hall), harvesting thousands of pounds of free, fresh produce for the community.
In recent years, TNDC has been developing housing of increasing complexity and size, with more units designed for seniors, families and formerly homeless people (including youth, single adults and families). We have increasingly focused on partnerships with other community-based organizations, and have also begun to explore partnerships with market-rate developers. In 2012 we completed our most complex project to date: the rehabilitation of the former Central City YMCA, an adaptive re-use and historic preservation project comprising 172 units for formerly homeless individuals along with the Department of Public Health’s new Federally Qualified Health Center. Kelly Cullen Community, named for TNDC’s former Executive Director, is a community gathering place thanks to its auditorium, gym, and other common spaces, and offers a rich array of medical, mental health, and other supportive services.
TNDC continues to build upon our legacy. We are proud to be the largest community-based development corporation in San Francisco, and among the largest in the country. We have continued to expand our geographic reach beyond the Tenderloin while maintaining our anchor in the neighborhood where we began. We complement this achievement in scale with high-quality support services and property management and a strong commitment to increasing the quality of life for people in the broader neighborhood.
Kelly came to the Tenderloin in 1981 with the idea of ministering to the poor, and there, he saw first-hand the needs of the resident population TNDC serves. Kelly joined TNDC’s Board of Directors in 1988, later becoming Board President, a position he held until he joined the staff as Executive Director in 1993.
Kelly helped transform TNDC from the fragile and fledgling organization of its roots to the thriving neighborhood institution it is today. He cared deeply about the Tenderloin and was a natural-born promoter passionate about community and political activism.
“TNDC has been profoundly shaped by Kelly,” said Don Falk, TNDC’s current Executive Director. “His values and priorities suffuse the organization. He believed in focusing on ‘the poorest of the poor,’ he wanted to ‘own land’ as an anti-gentrification strategy, he was driven in helping TNDC grow so it could do more… all of these things have become part and parcel of what TNDC is and how we operate.”
When Kelly became Executive Director in 1993, TNDC had 8 buildings with around 475 units. By his departure in 2005, he had helped TNDC more than double its portfolio to 20 buildings with 1,600 units, making it one of the largest affordable housing developers in San Francisco. Today, with a portfolio of 31 buildings, TNDC is a model of successful community development that others strive to follow.
“Kelly had deep compassion and respect for people,” said Paul Sussman, TNDC’s Chief Financial Officer, who served on TNDC’s Board of Directors with Kelly and worked closely with him after joining the staff as CFO. “He always lived in the neighborhood and moved day and night in the Tenderloin. He believed things could change for the better, that people could change for the better. He believed that you could have a dream, go for it, that you could bring people along and achieve it.”
TNDC will never forget Brother Kelly Cullen and the roots he helped plant for us here in the Tenderloin. We know Kelly’s creativity, his indefatigable energy, and his bright, ever-optimistic spirit is at the foundation of each success we celebrate. TNDC is Kelly’s legacy.
We have chosen to name our newest building Kelly Cullen Community in his honor. He is everywhere we look and in everything we do, and for his sake as well as our own we will continue his fight to give the people of the Tenderloin a brighter future.