Addressing the Crisis at a Federal, State and Local Level

Shannon Boland | NextGen Marin

For those of us who live in Marin County, it should not be a surprise that the rents in California are too high. Local government can be an effective tool to serve the community, yet there has been little successful intervention to address this problem. High rents and the housing crisis are public issues that affect our county and the rest of the state, but what is being done to fix it?

California Senator Kamala Harris has introduced The Rent Relief Act as a potential solution to rising rents. Essentially, the bill would give a tax break to people who make less than $100,000 and spend 30% of their income on rent. According to a Curbed article, “the credit would help many people living in cities, where a growing portion of the country's urban population is severely rent-burdened.” It’s an ambitious bill that, if approved, will aid low income people who are currently struggling.

However, is The Rent Relief Act a true solution?

The bill offers temporary financial recourse to those who are rent-burdened but does nothing to affect the actual supply of housing. Additionally, Kerry Cavanaugh of The Los Angeles Times has identified that the tax credit would be paid out as a lump sum once a year while tenants must pay their rent on a month to month basis. The Rent Relief Act may help, but it is not a bulletproof solution. And with the bill being introduced by Harris, a Democrat, to a Republican majority senate, it is not even certain that the bill will pass.

The Rent Relief Act, a national bill, may not have an impact on Marin’s housing issue -- but what about a bill specific to California? SB 827, which was advanced by San Francisco-based State Senator Scott Wiener, was another attempt to help alleviate California’s housing crisis. It was rejected in April by legislators in its first committee hearing. The bill would have overruled local governments’ zoning restrictions and allowed the construction of apartment buildings up to five stories tall near transit locations across the state.

Unlike The Rent Relief Act, SB 827 would have eased affordability issues by committing to building more housing. Yet while a five story apartment building is minuscule in a city like San Francisco, it would be a behemoth in Marin County. Currently in Marin the Development Code Standards mandate that all residential buildings, from single family homes to apartment complexes, have a maximum height limitation of 30 feet. In Novato the permits and fees to build can cost upwards of $778,000. SB 827 would have been miraculous in terms of leaping over local curtailments that deter housing and drag on the bureaucratic aspects of the construction process. However, this efficient aspect of SB 827 was also its fatal flaw. SB 827 lumped all California cities into a single category and took away the power of local government. While only thirty miles apart, Novato and San Francisco are two wildly different cities that have their own complex issues in regards to the housing crisis. The solution for city one may not be a viable solution for the other.

Bills like these bring attention to the need for local government. The state would not be obligated to intervene if cities met the housing quota. City council members have the opportunity to facilitate the housing situation in Marin with more transparency than any state or national bill. If we want to solve the housing crisis in Marin it is up to us, as members of this community, to take a stand.


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