Market forces prevail in housing project

POSTED: 07/19/18

Publication: Marin Independent Journal Editorial

San Rafael resident Kay Law objects to the Planning Commission’s approval of an assisted living center at this site on Mission and Lincoln avenues. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal)

Two community needs are colliding in San Rafael’s deliberations over plans to build a high-end senior assisted living center in downtown.

Seattle-based Aegis Living and local developer Tom Monahan won approval by the city Planning Commission for their plans to build a 77-unit mission-style complex on the long-vacant lot at Mission and Lincoln avenues.

There’s no question that given the “graying” of Marin, where a large and growing share of the population is over 60, there is an important community need for such developments so that seniors can stay in Marin and not have to move to other communities to find that kind of housing and care.

The public debate — the one that split the commission in its 4-2 vote to approve the plans — centered on the prime downtown site and another pressing community need: affordable workforce housing.

The site is ideal for workforce housing, because it’s close to downtown jobs, close to shopping and restaurants and a short walk to Marin’s primary transit hub.

Not using this parcel for this use is a missed opportunity.

Instead, the site’s future is being created by market forces, reflecting the affluence of Marin’s population.

Aegis says the complex will be “private pay,” costing tenants about $6,000 a month for rent, food, services and health care. It will not be available to subsidies such as Medicare.

Likely, there’s a market in Marin for such a development.

The quandary is that it could have been built in another location, not one that’s ideal for affordable housing and workers who now have to commute long distances to their downtown jobs and those who turn down local job opportunities because they can’t find a place to live.

These are the environmental and economic realities and ramifications of the Marin marketplace.

While the planned development meets a community need, it misses a rare chance to address another.

The developer is paying $500,000 toward the city’s affordable housing fund. That sum will help, but it’s unlikely to be enough to satisfy the need of those hired to run the complex.

City Planning Manager Raffi Boloyan counseled the commissioners that they could not deny the project simply because they would rather see something else built there. City zoning allows a senior care facility to be built on the property, he said.

In fact, in 2006 the city approved plans to build a 36-unit condominium complex on the site. It would have included six affordable units. But the project never made it past its blueprints.

The senior housing complex is expected to have less of an impact on traffic and parking than the earlier plan.

The proposed project does meet an important and growing community need, but it is also a loss when it comes to opportunities to build affordable workforce housing.

Such senior housing is profit-driven. Affordable housing can’t compete when market forces have the upper hand.

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