Grand jury report tackles housing crisis

Will creating a ‘housing coordinator’ fix the problem

POSTED: 04/27/17

Author: Chris Rooney

Publication: Marin Scope


“Marin is an expensive place to live, not only for low-income residents but also the average wage earner,” is the opening salvo of the Marin County civil grand jury’s “Overcoming Barriers to Housing Affordability” report, issued last week.

That’s not exactly breaking news, but the report takes a wide swipe at the many factors causing Marin’s housing crisis and tries to provide a plan to fix things.

The study found that new housing is opposed by citizens; that Marin property is expensive; that developers avoid Marin projects due to local regulations; that planning for low-income housing is weak; and communication between residents and developers is ineffective.

In order to fix the many problems, the grand jury recommends that county officials “should create and fund the position of Regional Housing Coordinator. The coordinator’s responsibilities should include: working with funding sources and developers, identifying underutilized properties, working with jurisdictions to create specific plans, and creating a county-wide civic mediation program for all civic project community dialogues.”

Housing problems aren’t exactly new to the region.

“Sky-high rents and a competitive real estate market have created a housing crisis of epic proportions in California and especially in the San Francisco Bay Area,” reported the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “The National Low Income Housing Coalition’s annual report, ‘Out of Reach,’ ranks California as the third most expensive rental market in the country. The five most expensive rental counties are in the San Francisco Bay Area: Marin, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Mateo.”

This news does not bode well for home-hunters in Marin County.

According to a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, affordability is only part of the Bay Area’s housing problem. “Inadequate supply is the real underlying issue,” the LAO reports. “Housing production remains far below the estimated housing units needed to meet demand, especially in strong employment markets.”

Matt Regan, senior vice president of policy at the Bay Area Council, explained that it’s in the best interest of local economies to create more affordable and middle-income housing now if they want to keep businesses in the Bay Area.

Marin County officials are taking steps to create affordable housing. Recently, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved a $1 million contribution to its Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and the Marin Housing Authority (MHA) secured about $1.8 million in federal funds to stave off a deficit and bolster its Section 8 voucher program.

“This grant will allow us to serve more families,” explained MHA Executive Director Lewis Jordan. “Without this grant we would not be able to meet the rent increases that landlords are requesting ultimately resulting in MHA serving less low income families.”

MHA had to fight for the funds. Jordan said it was a competitive grant process that required verifiable proof of need, as well as a proven success rate. Jordan said the area’s booming rent increases were at the center of the discussion.

Leelee Thomas, Community Development Agency (CDA) principal planner, said steps are being taken to allow workers to live in the same area as their places of employment.

“Marin has one of the more expensive housing markets in the Bay Area,” she said. “While other communities are more expensive, like San Francisco, Marin is set apart because we have very minimal new development. In the unincorporated County last year 56 new market-rate homes were developed.”

What steps are being made to provide and/or create affordable housing? “Because of the difficult development climate, the Board of Supervisors has recently decided to focus on acquisition of existing housing and conversion to permanently affordable,” she said.

The grand jury report found that “Community resistance forms a barrier to virtually any new development in Marin. Vocal opposition serves to constrain the actions of civic leadership. Attempts to satisfy the needs of the developer and the needs of the community simultaneously are often ineffective.”

The grand jury report also stated that “It is expensive to build in Marin. The high cost of land and construction form a formidable barrier to affordability, particularly in the case of low-income affordable housing. No one solution will completely overcome this barrier, but a creative approach to address some construction fees will make Marin more attractive for development.”

The report continued to say developers cite the planning process in Marin as a clear barrier to progress. “Regulatory delay becomes burdensome when developing low-income affordable housing. We suggest that models exist where successful early cooperation between developers, and planners, and neighborhoods have made the planning process more efficient. These models could easily be adopted across Marin’s communities.”

Also, the report calls for the county and all 11 municipalities to “coordinate available resources to develop low-income affordable housing that would benefit all of the citizens of Marin. This effort would be best coordinated through a central Housing Coordinator.”

Residents can expect to see the grand jury report on local calendars, as responses have been requested from every Marin municipality, as well as county officials and housing agencies.

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