Meet the CSH Board: Don Falk

Don Falk is the Chief Executive Officer of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation (TNDC)

Why did you join the CSH Board? don_falk_tndc
It is an honor for me personally, and for TNDC, to be represented on the Board of Directors of CSH. Coming from the development world I do not consider myself an expert in homeless services and was not sure that I had a unique perspective to offer. But CSH persuaded me that my skills and view would add value to the board. From a selfish standpoint, being on the Board has also brought me into relationship with some very knowledgeable people from whom I can learn and who can help TNDC.

I’ve been really impressed with the quality of CSH’s staff, a key element to a good experience as a Board member.

What excites you the most about CSH’s work in supportive housing?
CSH is on the cutting—some might say “bleeding”—edge of new knowledge around supportive housing –around the entire country people are innovating and learning, and CSH is the conduit to both receive and distribute that information. Participating in board meetings and talking to CSH staff provides a richness and texture that is tough to convey in e-newsletters.  Being situated to hear and see the work unfold in my position as a Board member is motivating, and a real privilege.

There is a big sweeping thing that could happen here in the U.S. around a sustainable revenue model for supportive housing is gaining momentum. In San Francisco we’ve being piloting it for 10 years, but what CSH is doing is much broader, in the context of many more localities and different partners; CSH is a pioneer in the Pay for Success movement.  All of that is inspiring because I approach this work partly from a non-philanthropy viewpoint – I want to do this work for all the right reasons, of course, but with a financially sustainable, business-oriented model to solve social problems.

Where do you see the supportive housing industry in 10 years?
In my dream world, supportive housing would not be the exception – it would be routinely accepted by people and communities as not merely humane but smart policy. Supportive housing will utilize a readily accessible revenue model where we save money by housing homeless people and then pay for the housing out of the savings.

How has the tight housing market impacted your work as a CDC?
We’re at ground zero of the national affordable housing market crisis here in San Francisco – it has had a profound impact. It’s more than the broader issue of gentrification and displacement, which of course impacts homeless/formerly homeless people. Beyond the literally 10+ million renter households who pay unaffordable rents, vast groups are in jeopardy of being displaced over the next decade from rising values. The character of our neighborhoods and the character of our city are both changing as a result. Moreover, with the cost of development increasing at a seemingly unsustainable pace (including acquisition and construction costs) across the board we are seeing fewer, smaller projects, which makes it more difficult to ameliorate the housing crisis. In San Francisco’s housing market, the broader issues of inequality are playing out in front of our very eyes.

What has your experience been partnering with an FQHC?
Our partnership at Kelly Cullen Community—which CSH supported with a Social Innovation Fund grant—is  a health center co-located at our supportive housing site. It’s a fantastic thing, serving the entire community’s residents. It really is a testimonial to the fundamental link between health and housing; they’re inextricably connected. It is immensely gratifying to be able to walk someone through the building, introduce them to the people living here and see first-hand the impact of the health connection. You can look, see, touch and feel how health and housing are working together.

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