Marin Voice: Mill Valley’s charge makes local housing more expensive

POSTED: 07/27/17, 10:09 AM PDT | UPDATED: ON 07/27/2017

Author: Pam Raymond

Publication: Marin Independent Journal: Marin Voice


The Mill Valley City Council just, officially, made housing less affordable.

With its 5-0 cart-way-before-the-horse vote on July 17, council members justified creating a fund for affordable housing by taxing a tiny fraction of the town to pay for it.

This vote occurred without support, input, objectives or any tangible evidence of how the funds will be used.

No mention of how, where, when or why their proposed “tens of families,” someday, will receive funds provided by ... tens of other families who will pay a penalty tax.

Now, before anyone assumes this is an anti-affordable housing rant, please know that it is not. In fact, in our two-income family, one of us works for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, financing and building affordable housing. We are more aware, supportive and involved than most regarding the complexities of this issue.

As it goes in Mill Valley, votes that adversely affect our town are not well publicized. And in the summer months when the town empties out, there are even fewer people around to follow City Hall’s agendas.

In this case, a notification on the city’s website was posted two days before the vote. Despite pleas to pause, gather input and support, define and then relay measurable objectives, council members plowed ahead and voted.

Consider this a win for affordable housing? Hardly.

What they approved was a penalty tax for families scraping together funds to build additions or renovate their small homes and make it work in Mill Valley. Those unlucky families will be forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars into this fund before proceeding with their projects.

See? Less affordable.

The council — not a single example of experience with affordable housing among them — champed at the bit in anticipation of taking these funds from hard-working families for whom this penalty tax will, in some cases, kill their project.

For the multi-family developers who pay the penalty tax, you can be assured that this cost will be passed on directly to buyers.

Again, less affordable.

For the subset of projects that are constructed by the wealthy, the penalty tax won’t be felt as hard. But these extravagant projects are few and the effect of the tax even in this stratosphere still makes housing in Mill Valley more expensive.

The process of building in Mill Valley is already notoriously anti-applicant. The onerous, yearslong planning process to expand one’s home entails astronomical (by any benchmark) permit fees in the tens of thousands of dollars, countless revisions despite meeting all requirements, speculative assumptions that cause more changes to drawings which in turn cause more fees from architects, engineers and consultants, plotting fees and more ... all before a project even gets to a contractor for a bid.

On top of this “process,” the city is now justifying adding more penalties to a fraction of families in Mill Valley.

The city never communicated any meaningful plan for what it will do with the new fund. Perhaps this is buried in paperwork, but the information certainly is not easily accessible.

Offhandedly, council members say they are considering purchasing housing and renting it at below-market rates. On top of all our issues in town (hello? traffic?), should the city really be entering the landlord business?

Housing the proposed “tens of families,” paid for by another unlucky tens of families, is beyond short-sighted and most definitely questionably motivated.

Five people have just dismantled the hard work of families across town. Asked to pause and adopt a more inclusive process, define measurable goals and objectives, gain community support, include expert resources and communicate plans and motivation with transparency, the City Council just said no.

Instead the city just, officially, made housing in Mill Valley even more expensive.

So much for big thinking.

*Pam Raymond is a Mill Valley resident.

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