Mill Valley affordable housing plan taking shape

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

POSTED: 02/07/18, 7:42 PM PST | UPDATED: ON 02/09/2018

Author: Adrian Rodriguez

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

Mill Valley Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters said the city is “in the active phase” of creating an affordable housing plan. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal) 2015


The Mill Valley City Council this week agreed to a number of housing policy updates to comply with recent state housing laws, some of which officials said threatened to usurp local control over development.

The updates would be a first step in a plan outlined in an affordable housing ordinance approved last year. The ordinance aims to maintain, enhance and create affordable housing in Mill Valley. The council signed off on the plan schedule Monday; no vote was taken.

“We’re done studying, we’re done talking, we’ve identified some options,” said Mayor Stephanie Moulton-Peters. “We are in the active phase. Stay tuned everyone, we’re going to keep doing it.”

Mill Valley planning staff identified more than a dozen bills on housing that went into effect this year, and pending 2018 legislation, such as SB 827 and SB 828 authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, that city officials worried would “erode” local control.

SB 827 would exempt projects within a quarter-mile radius from certain zoning restrictions, allowing an increase in building height to be from 55 to 85 feet. Mill Valley would be subject to this provision at Miller Avenue, a potential 85-foot height limit, and at Throckmorton and East Blithedale avenues, a potential 55-foot height limit.

SB 828 would reform the methodology that the California Department of Housing and Community Development uses to calculate regional housing goals, and impose stricter penalties for failing to meet them.

The council agreed to write a letter in opposition to the two pending bills.

“These are not the right bills to achieve affordable housing here,” said Councilwoman Jessica Sloan, who said that the city has spent the last year actively tackling the housing crisis by adopting an affordable housing ordinance.

That affordable housing ordinance includes a city imposed fee that would apply to all new housing projects and remodels costing $100,000 or more. The fee will equal 1 percent of the project’s construction cost, and will take effect Nov. 1, 2018. The cost of a second-unit project, designed to provide affordable housing, would be exempt from the fee.

City planners estimate that the fee could generate about $2 million over five years. That money would be fed into an affordable housing trust fund that could be used for fostering affordable housing within the community, including the acquisition, construction, development, rehabilitation and maintenance or administration of property.

As outlined, the next steps for the affordable housing plan include:

• Policy updates, such as changes to the accessory dwelling unit ordinance that requires deed restriction on affordability, and an amendment to the affordable housing ordinance to require that multifamily rental projects with more than three units to build affordable units.

• The city staff will also work on disincentives for tearing down the existing affordable housing stock and developing historic preservation guidelines.

• In March, the council is expected to appoint an affordable housing committee, comprised of two council members, two planning commissioners and selected local housing experts.

• The committee and staff will recommend administrative guidelines for using the money collected in the affordable housing trust fund. The council is expected to consider the guidelines in the fall.

• City staff will work with the Marin Housing Authority and Marin County staff to seek acquisition and financing opportunities.

• The city will also plan an open house this spring for landlords and owners of multi-family properties to discuss section 8 voucher programs, and loan programs that could be made available to update and retrofit buildings.

To add perspective on the housing crisis, Danielle Staude, a city senior planner, gave a status overview of median wages and cost of living in Mill Valley.

The median single-family home in Mill Valley is more than $1.5 million. On average, that would require an annual income greater than $289,000. For renters, in order to afford a one-bedroom apartment at the median $2,390 a month, it would require an income of $49 an hour, or $102,000 annually.

The median income is about $150,000. That means that more than half of the households in Mill Valley cannot afford a home in Mill Valley, Staude said.

“So there is a bit of disparity in terms of pricing versus income levels,” she said.

At a housing summit in November to discuss the issue residents said affordable housing projects raise concerns about traffic and parking. Another concern was that neighbors to a proposed affordable housing project site would not be in favor of a potential plan.

On Monday, Dennis Klein, a critic of the city’s efforts and citizen’s affordable housing committee, said he believes that 100-percent affordable housing projects are the solution to the housing crisis, and that those projects need to be in neighborhoods that offer amenities within walking distance and have access to public transit.

“If we bring people to town and we don’t get rid of the traffic, we haven’t done anything here as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

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