Marin grand jury: Coordinator needed to address affordable housing shortage

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

POSTED: 04/14/17, 2:16 PM PDT | UPDATED: ON 04/16/2017

Author: Richard Halstead

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

Community members hold up signs of support for homeless services while the Marin Board of Supervisors listen to discussion about the rotating emergency shelter program on Aug. 23, 2016. County of Marin photo


A regional housing coordinator is needed to address Marin’s affordable housing shortage, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury concludes in a report released this week.

The grand jury also says local governments in Marin should either disallow the use of in-lieu housing fees or increase fees to reflect the true cost of developing affordable housing. Many jurisdictions allow developers to pay a fee in lieu of ensuring that at least some of the units they are creating are affordable.

The report, titled, “Overcoming Barriers to Housing Affordability,” includes many other recommendations. The report says there needs to be:

• Better communication between local planning departments and housing developers.

• Better community outreach for prospective housing projects.

• Fast-tracking of low-income housing projects through the permitting process.

• Elimination of utility hook-up fees for low-income housing projects and accessory dwelling units.

• An investigation by local school districts into the feasibility of building teacher housing on their land.

• Creation of an easily obtainable map of all vacant and underutilized parcels in Marin suitable for development.


A regional housing coordinator’s responsibilities would include working with funding sources and developers, identifying underutilized properties, working with jurisdictions to create specific plans and fostering public support for housing projects, according to the grand jury.

Brian Crawford, director of Marin County’s Community Development Agency, said the recommendation was “an interesting proposition that would test the willingness and ability of local jurisdictions to work collaboratively on affordable housing issues.”

Crawford said there has already been some movement toward a countywide approach to addressing affordable housing needs. The Board of Supervisors has opened up the county’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund to projects within cities and towns, breaking from a long-standing policy of reserving those funds for the unincorporated areas of Marin.

“There is a lot of valuable stuff in this report,” said Wendi Kallins of Forest Knolls, founder of Marin’s Safe Routes to School Program and a steering committee member of the Coalition for a Livable Marin. “I like the idea of doing county-wide coordination.”

Kallins said one of the problems with in-lieu fees is that they “often end up sitting in a fund that never gets used.”

The grand jury states that seven of Marin’s 12 jurisdictions, including the county, accept the payment of housing fees in lieu of building affordable housing. It adds, however, that for most of the jurisdictions the account balances are too low to be useful and suggests pooling the funds, with central administration at the county level.

Crawford said the county’s in-lieu fee, last updated in July 2016, is roughly $290,000 per unit.

Crawford said, however, “Because in-lieu fees are based on a percentage of new development, they won’t generate a substantial amount of funding in slow-growth counties like Marin. That means we need to be creative about seeking additional sources of funds to support affordable housing.”


The grand jury writes in its report, “During our investigation, we heard repeatedly from both nonprofits and funding sources that the challenge to building low-income and middle-income affordable housing isn’t identifying funding sources, it is overcoming local political and community resistance.”

The grand jury cites a Learning Policy Institute report that found that “lack of affordable housing is one reason teachers leave the profession or leave districts with high costs of living.”

Marin Superintendent of Schools Mary Jane Burke said a committee of local superintendents and school board trustees is looking into whether school districts have unused properties suitable for housing development.

Burke said the committee also will look into the possibility of collaborating with fire, police and municipal agencies.

“This is not just impacting our schools,” she said.

Laying out the scope of the problem, the grand jury states that Marin residents experience the lack of affordable housing in a myriad of ways: increased traffic congestion (as of 2014 over 61,000 workers commuted into Marin each day); increased numbers of homeless people living on the streets; financial strain on low- and moderate-income households to pay for housing; and the likelihood that Marin children will have to live elsewhere when they grow up.


Gail Dorph, a leader of the Marin Organizing Committee — a network of local institutions, congregations and nonprofits that founded Marin’s emergency winter shelter program for the homeless — said the report lists a number of obstacles already familiar to housing advocates in Marin.

“But by naming them in an organized way they did us a service,” Dorph said. And Dorph said more importantly, the report points out these obstacles can be overcome.

“They are not totally intractable. With thoughtful strategy, you can actually make inroads,” she said. “At this very moment MOC has a strategy for supporting more affordable housing in Fairfax that is very much in line with the grand jury’s suggestions.”

Dorph said there was, however, one crucial element lacking in the report. She said the grand jury made no mention of the “current overcrowded conditions for renters and the total lack of rental protections.”

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