Insight Center attorneys assisted a group of community-based organizations in the San Francisco Mission District to plan for and carry out the acquisition of a building that would house their programs and provide quality, affordable space for other community nonprofits. The building was named Centro del Pueblo, center of the people.
The project presented three major issues: identifying and acquiring a suitable building, securing financing, and developing a legal structure that would implement the group’s concept of shared ownership and occupancy.
Insight Center attorneys worked with the group to establish a nonprofit organization that would own and operate the property, receive grants, and obtain a property-tax exemption. The new nonprofit, also called Centro del Pueblo, was structured as a membership organization, with board representation from each of the founding organizations. The Insight Center also assisted Centro del Pueblo in developing lease documents, entering into agreements with a variety of financing sources, acquiring a site, and subdividing the site to sell excess land to a nonprofit housing-development organization.
The Centro del Pueblo organizations completed rehabilitation and moved into the building in April 1993, and smaller nonprofit tenants followed. Almost 15 years later, the building remains an important resource for the Mission community and Mission-based nonprofit organizations.
People’s Grocery is a West Oakland-based nonprofit organization that provides access to healthy, affordable food and education about nutrition and health-related topics. The West Oakland community has high rates of poverty and a lack of basic resources such as grocery stores. As a result, West Oakland residents have limited access to fresh and healthy foods and suffer high rates of diabetes, heart disease, and other health conditions linked to diet.
People’s Grocery engaged the Insight Center to file its tax-exemption application after an Insight Center attorney reviewed a draft developed by a non-attorney and found that it required extensive revision. The tax-exemption application required extensive detail and citation to precedent because many of the organization’s activities risked IRS classification as business operations. The application was further complicated by the fact that it was being filed late. People’s Grocery had received inconsistent support in preparing its tax-exemption application and more than 27 months had passed since its incorporation, creating the risk that it would be subject to back taxes if it was not able to obtain a retroactive exemption at IRS discretion.
Insight Center attorneys worked closely with People’s Grocery staff to complete and file the application before a filing-fee increase went into effect. The application was filed on time and People’s Grocery received its tax exemption retroactive to its date of incorporation, enabling the organization to move forward with its programmatic and fund-raising efforts.
The Insight Center provided legal support for the selection and formation of legal and governance structures for the Mission Asset Fund (MAF). MAF was established to help low-income, mostly immigrant residents of the San Francisco Mission District build a more secure economic future for themselves and their families through asset building—access to financial services, savings, and investment opportunities.
MAF grew out of Levi Strauss & Company’s decision to earmark a $1 million contribution for a Mission economic-development fund. The contribution represented a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the company’s former garment factory located in the Mission. A volunteer steering committee, comprised of six community leaders and a Levi Strauss Foundation representative, was formed to develop the fund, and it identified meaningful community participation in the fund’s design and operation as an important value. The committee undertook an extensive community-engagement process to explore residents’ visions of the fund and priorities in building their economic futures. Over 300 residents participated in individual conversations and community forums.
It was determined that a nonprofit membership corporation was the entity best suited to incorporating community participation while achieving the fund’s other objectives. The new corporation’s governing documents institutionalize community participation by providing that the majority of its board members be residents of the Mission.
The Insight Center serves as a California’s statewide support center that provides short-term advice and counsel, specialized technical assistance, publications, and training in CED to eligible legal-services programs, their client community-based organizations, and attorneys in private practice who provide pro bono legal services to eligible client organizations.
Each year, the Insight Center responds to over 150 requests for technical assistance from legal-services projects and pro bono attorneys. These requests cover a broad range of economic-development projects. Examples include assistance with the formation and operation of charitable organizations, advice on organizational governance and tax-exemption issues, entity development for real-estate projects, and review and revision of legal documents. These services are provided free of charge through support from the California State Bar Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts and Equal Access Fund programs.
Our legal publications include sample organizing documents, sample agreements, and checklists and training outlines, each covering matters that arise in nonprofit corporation formation and operation.
We provided organizational development, legal structuring, and internal operations assistance regarding charitable tax exempt organizations and their affiliates, including:
- CA Legal Services Program Support
- Mission Asset Fund
- People’s Grocery
- Centro Del Pueblo
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