Don Falk
Courtesy Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. Don Falk

Don Falk, the longtime leader of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp. (TNDC), has announced that he will be retiring from the organization.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit has had a motto: Opportunity only knocks if you have a door. With that in mind, Falk has been building doors for 27 years at TNDC, the last 15 as CEO.

“The change is good for TNDC, and the change is good for me,” says Falk, who has been instrumental as the small grassroots organization has grown into a national leader in providing supportive housing.

During his tenure, TNDC has grown from owning fewer than 500 homes to more than 4,000 units, housing nearly 6,000 people, with another 1,000 units in its pipeline.

Before becoming CEO, Falk served as the organization’s director of housing development for about 11 years. In these early days, the development department was a small team of four; it was before email, so Falk would leave notes on his colleagues’ chairs to notify them of a meeting. If the meeting time changed, he would leave another round of chair notes.

Today, TNDC’s total workforce approaches 500 people, including 17 in development.

"I've known Don for over 20 years as a colleague and friend, and am thrilled that NPH will celebrate his humility, passion, and achievements by honoring him with our Lifetime Achievement Award this year,” says Amie Fishman, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH). “Under his leadership, TNDC has increased those they house by the thousands, expanded tenant and community services, consistently pursued best practices and innovations with the TNDC staff and board, and taken recent steps to advance racial equity and inclusion.”

NPH will recognize Falk at its 25th annual housing leadership awards event April 29.

“Don's inspiring leadership has shown that affordable housing can be transformative for neighborhoods and communities,” Fishman says.

Throughout its history, TNDC has walked the walk, providing critical housing and programs for some of San Francisco’s neediest residents. It has also stayed close to its roots, with much of its work concentrated in the city’s Tenderloin, a complex neighborhood that’s home to a diverse population, including many who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, while facing the pressures of rising real estate prices and gentrification.

The late Brother Kelly Cullen, a member of the Franciscan order and former TNDC executive director, is credited with saying, “Every city needs a place like the Tenderloin for people on their way up and on their way down.”

As a result of the efforts of TNDC and other organizations, about 33% of the Tenderloin is nonprofit or publicly controlled. “Perhaps, it’s the only neighborhood in the country that has effectively addressed displacement in a truly long-term in perpetuity kind of way,” Falk says.

The organization has more than 40 developments and has surpassed $1 billion in assets, but it’s about more than bricks and mortar. Falk is also proud of the work that takes place inside and around the buildings. TNDC is comprehensive community development organization, providing vital food, health, after-school, and community organizing programs.

Falk’s upcoming departure is one of many notable changes in the region’s affordable housing scene. Cynthia Parker recently resigned as president and CEO of BRIDGE Housing. Andre “Andy” Madeira took over as CEO of the East Bay Asian Local Development Corp. after Joshua Simon stepped down from the post he held for about seven years and nearly 20 years with the organization. Jane Graf, who has been a big presence in the Bay Area, retired as president and CEO of Mercy Housing in 2020, with Ismael Guerrero taking over the post. Laura Hall became president and CEO of EAH Housing in 2019, assuming the post from longtime leader Mary Murtagh. Rich Gross, founder of Enterprise Community Partner’s Northern California market office, will also be retiring.

Falk plans to stay in office until a new CEO is selected and takes the helm of TNDC.

It will be a new chapter for the longtime nonprofit, but it will also be a major change for Falk, who has personally identified with the work he does. He still expects to play a role in the industry, but at the same time does not have immediate plans.

“I can’t imagine not being involved because it’s so important to me,” he says.