West Marin residents air concerns about affordable housing project
Author: Richard Halstead
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
Some West Marin residents remain concerned that a plan to convert a former U.S. Coast Guard property in Point Reyes Station into affordable housing may not adequately address their housing needs.
The county held its second community meeting on the plan Thursday in West Marin School’s gymnasium. About 100 people attended the meeting, about half the number that turned out for the first meeting held in April.
“I think it was important for the county to hold a second meeting,” said Kim Thompson, executive director of the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin. “A lot of people in the community were very frustrated after the first meeting.”
The main issue was the message from county representatives that people already living and working in West Marin would not be given first priority when the new affordable housing becomes available. Thursday night’s meeting began with several presentations explaining why Marin County is legally required to market the property to minority populations living outside the area.
Nevertheless, questions about whether local residents and employees could be given special preference came up again Thursday.
“This is going to be an issue of standing tension even though at the end of the day I think there is going to be many local families living on that property,” Thompson said.
“What is underlying the community’s insecurity and fear is simply the level of displacement that we’ve experienced, especially over the last five years,” Thompson said. “As a rural, interdependent community, we see and feel the effects of that — especially, our young families, our Latino families and our local employers — who can’t find people to fill jobs because employees have had to leave.”
The Coast Guard property, formerly used by Coast Guard employees and their families, features 36 townhouses, picnic areas, trails, a dining hall, tennis courts and other facilities.
The West Marin community successfully advocated for the passage of federal legislation to require that the property be sold to Marin County for use as affordable housing. The property remains under federal ownership while the county negotiates a purchase based on a fair-market appraisal.
The county plans to issue a request for proposals this summer to select a nonprofit housing developer to renovate and manage the affordable homes. The Community Land Trust Association of West Marin will compete along with other agencies; it will receive no special preference despite its past efforts to help secure the property from the Coast Guard.
The purchase of the property from the Coast Guard is expected to be completed in late 2019 or 2020. However, because of required environmental review and needed renovation, it will be several years before families can move into the homes.
Bridger Mitchell of Inverness, who spoke during the public comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, said, “Many people in the community would like to have some preference shown in the selection process for people employed or retired in West Marin.”
Mitchell, who is retired, has lived in Inverness for nine years and said his family’s West Marin connections date back over 60 years. Mitchell said more visitors to West Marin over recent years has resulted in increased traffic congestion, and much of the area’s housing has been lost to short-term rentals.
“These changes have made it more difficult and expensive for people who work in this area to live here,” Mitchell said. “They have to commute long distances to their jobs.”
Ken Levin, one of the leaders of the Point Reyes Station Village Association, said, “I don’t care what color, religion or sexual persuasion anybody is. I would like to discriminate against people who don’t work in the area, but you can’t really do that, I guess.”
Liz Darby, Marin County’s social equity policy coordinator, explained that under a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 2015, counties and states must do more than just combat housing discrimination if they want to qualify for community development block grants. They must actually take steps to reverse segregation.
Like in many communities across the country, segregation in Marin was institutionalized during the 1940s when the federal government guaranteed bank loans to developers of white-only subdivisions and promoted the use of racially restrictive covenants on deeds.
“The thrust of last night’s meeting was legally you have to do affirmative marketing. There is no way around it,” said Arianne Dar, executive director of the Bolinas Community Land Trust, a panelist who spoke before the public comment section of Thursday’s meeting. She said the Bolinas Community Land Trust is in the process of adopting its own affirmative marketing plan.
Affirmative marketing plans identify the segments of the eligible population that are least likely to apply for housing without special outreach efforts and includes special measures designed to attract those groups.
Dar said her organization currently manages 14 units of housing with 22 tenants and is the process of adding six more housing units.
“There is a fear that if we open it up to people who live outside the community we’re not going to have housing for the people who work in our communities,” Dar said. “That has not been our experience so far at all.”
Dar said Bolinas Community Land Trust currently has 72 names on its waiting list for housing.
“The majority of those,” she said, “are people who already live and/or work in our community.”