San Rafael needs to start that affordable housing conversation

POSTED: 9/17/18

Author: Editorial Board

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

A rendering of an assisted-living housing on the corner of Mission and Lincoln avenues in San Rafael. The property is located at 800 Mission Ave. (Provided by City of San Rafael)

There’s a growing need for senior assisted-living housing in Marin and plans to build a 77-unit complex at a busy corner in downtown San Rafael will help address that need, even for high-end housing.

The City Council voted 5-0 to endorse the development.

Critics of the proposal are also right; the long-vacant lot at the corner of Mission and Lincoln avenues would have been ideal for affordable housing, even affordable senior housing. But no viable proposal to address those needs was forthcoming.

What did advance was a plan for a large mission-style complex to be operated by Aegis, which operates another complex in Corte Madera.

In order to address affordable housing questions, the developer is contributing $500,000 to the city to help build low-cost housing. Although that sum is more than the city would require, it likely is not going to get much built.

Marin is one of the fastest-aging communities in California. One countywide head count showed that in 2007, 14 percent of Marin’s residents were 65 or older. Projections indicated that share would grow to 32 percent by 2030.

Senior advocates have warned that Marin needs to be better prepared for a so-called “silver tsunami.”

A big part of that preparation is housing, providing local housing opportunities rather than forcing Marin seniors to look for housing outside of the county.

The approved project will help address that need. In addition, it will provide local jobs.

Many of those who will live there will sell their Marin homes, where they lived for many years, and will be able to pay the estimated $6,000 per month for housing and care from the equity they built up from the sale of those properties.

But this project won’t do much for affordable housing, also a pressing and growing need in Marin. That’s the valid argument made by critics of the plan.

Development of this site for high-end senior housing means loss of an opportunity to help meet that demand, but time ran out for an affordable housing proposal, while market pressures succeeded in coming up with a viable development option.

Councilman John Gamblin said the debate “starts a broader conversation” regarding local housing needs and plans to address those needs.

Councilwoman Kate Colin stressed that the approved plan adds to the diversity of San Rafael’s housing stock and meets a demand.

What this plan and debate reflect is a need for the city to identify potential sites that make sense for development of affordable senior housing and to take steps to help foster proposals that address that goal.

It’s time to start that “broader conversation” before other opportunities are lost to market-driven economics.

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