Homelessness and Housing Affordability in Marin

Updated: Sep 29, 2018


Dylan Panahy | NextGen Marin


There is no doubt about it: Marin County is wealthy. According to IRS data collected in 2017, Marin County had the highest average adjusted gross income (AGI) in California at $158,753; it even ranked 5th highest in the entire United States for the same statistic. Marin’s astronomical housing costs are also well documented; the median property value in Marin was $1.44 million in 2017, and even the average one-bedroom apartment in Marin has an average rental cost of $2,430 per month.


But underneath this semblance of prosperity lies an unexpected and well-kept secret: Marin has a homelessness problem. According to the 2017 Marin County Point-In-Time Count, there are 1,117 homeless Marin County residents. A comprehensive survey administered to 457 homeless individuals in Marin was able to shed at least a little bit of light onto exactly who these housing-insecure citizens are.


71% of the homeless had lived in Marin County before becoming homeless, with 53% having lived in Marin for a decade or longer. Only 9% had lived in the county for under a year, dispelling the notion that most of our homeless are simply “travelling bums” coming from elsewhere. The majority are white, with 64% being documented as Caucasian alongside 15% African-American and 18% Hispanic. 68% were Men and 31% were Women, with the other 1% reporting as transgender. In terms of age, the largest cohort was in the 25-39 range at 39%, with the second-largest cohort being 18-24 at 19%. 18% were parents with children under the age of 18, but only about a third of these individuals currently were living with their children. The number of homeless 40-64 year olds, typically Marin’s wealthiest demographic, was a startling 29%. Sadly, 12% were children, falling under the age of 17.


But none of the data presented so far answers the most important question: why did these individuals become homeless in the first place?


A possible clue can be found in the responses these homeless individuals gave when they were asked about the primary condition that led to their homelessness. While one might expect the usual suspects of substance abuse issues or mental health to be the main cause of most homelessness, this was not the case. A strong majority of 42% reported economic issues to be the main instigator of their homelessness. When asked what was most needed to solve their homelessness, 65% of those surveyed reported that affordable housing was what they most needed in order to finally obtain a permanent residence. However, with only 1 housing unit built for ever 9.5 jobs created in Marin in 2017, affordable housing remains a pipe dream. As the Bay Area has the highest level of yearly out-migration (people fleeing due to high housing costs) in the nation at 3% annually, it is logical to suggest that a large amount of people in Marin simply pack up and leave in search of a more affordable and secure place to live. Those who chose to stay now make up the 1,117 members of Marin’s homeless population.


It is very difficult to ignore the connection between housing affordability and Marin’s homeless population. Marin’s homeless do not fit the negative stereotype of the young, drug-addled and mentally-ill vagrant. Our homeless are mostly longtime Marin residents, not wandering bums. The majority of them reported economic issues, not drug or mental health problems, as the primary cause of their housing insecurity. More than half had lived in Marin for more than 10 years prior to becoming homeless. These are not wandering drug addicts or mental patients; these are our workers, neighbors, friends, even family members.

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