Some 70 tech companies are currently registered in the Mission District and increasingly, all are facing the same challenges that residents and other businesses have long blamed on tech – high rents and increasing wealth inequality.
“Rent and staff cost a lot more in San Francisco than they do anywhere else,” said Zach Berke of Exygy, a digital services agency focused on progressive social change that has been working on creating a digital strategy to enhance government social services, among other things.
Double Union, a feminist maker space, was actually forced out of the Mission because of rising rents.
Even at 70 companies, they remain a small fraction of the 10,363 registered businesses in the Mission – a list dominated by real estate with 1,202 registered businesses, retail, professional offices, restaurants and cafes with each around 600 registered businesses.
Eric Eldon of Hoodline, a location-based news and information discovery platform, sees tech’s confrontation with the reality of rising prices, as a positive development. As tech companies experience the financial realities of covering their costs, they will be pulled closer to the community, he said.
Berke agreed. “I hope tech companies in the Mission will be more inclusive in the future. That way it is not one world on the inside and another on the outside,” said Berke.
Tech employees, Eldon said, are already experiencing first-hand the difficulty of finding affordable housing and in the end, that means they move farther out and in the process identify with the community more than with their bosses who can still afford to live here.
“A quarter of our team lives in the Mission proper,” said Eldon. He says cost is the biggest reason for this and that Hoodline is fortunate to have most people live so close to the office, whether that be in the Mission or in other San Francisco neighborhoods.
Ro Prakash of Townsquared, a digital platform for small businesses, is in a similar situation.
“More than half of our employees live outside the Mission,” he said. The high cost of living in the area, he said, was definitely a reason for this.
In Exygy it is even more extreme. Only 3 of the 21 team members live in the Mission.
For the companies that operate from the Mission, the easy commute for employees who have had to move further out, remains an attraction. In addition, the Mission still has available office space and offers a neighborhood experience and connections that cannot be found elsewhere.
“Most of the reasons tech companies come to the area are logistical,” said Prakash, listing commutability and available office space.
Just as it happened in the first dotcom boom, many of the companies have found space in the old industrial area of the northeast Mission where zoning laws allow offices.
Sometimes the logistical reason for being in the Mission has to do with the company’s focus. Berke, Prakash and Eldon say that operating from the Mission allows them to be around the communities they are trying to help. They can also partner with the local organizations that work on the specific issues that they are addressing.
Megan Mullins from Raise.me, an online platform for high-school students to raise money for college, wanted to be closer to the community they serve as well. “Giving back to the community is very important for the organizations here,” said Mullins.
Employees at Raise.me volunteer with local organizations including Mission Graduates, a nonprofit that prepares Mission youth to go to college and Breakthrough SF, another nonprofit supporting students to go to college.
Nevertheless, many working class residents have faced evictions and the rising cost of operating small businesses from the Mission.
“If only gentrifiers supported our culture the way they do others then gentrification wouldn’t suck so bad and people wouldn’t feel so resentful,” wrote Michael Fernandez in response to a new Indian restaurant opening on Mission St.
Prakash from Townsquared said they located here because the startup was aimed at small businesses and few places have as many as the Mission. “We want to be among the people we serve,” he said.
He would also like to see more Latino businesses represented in his company. Currently, he said, they are underrepresented.
In the meantime, Townsquared employees continue to volunteer in local nonprofits, to contribute to efforts of beautification and to purchase from local food places. Exygy, Hoodline and Raise.me are also contributing in a similar fashion.