In Marin, the issue is talked about and
fought over, but what is it? BY JIM WOOD
The people who live in
affordable housing are people
we need in our community.
are considered low income,” Thomas says.
And what makes affordable housing work?
The magic word is subsidies. Various entities — federal, state and county governments,
corporations seeking tax credits, and community foundations and nonprofits — help
subsidize affordable housing. “The Marin
Community Foundation has put money into
every affordable project that’s been built in
this county,” Thomas says.
After receiving such subsidies, developers
like EAH Housing, Bridge, Eden Housing,
Sausalito Rotary and Novato Rotary can
build apartments and rent them for lower
than market rates.
According to Russell, a member of the
advocacy group Marin Environmental
Housing Collaborative, most affordable housing in Marin is rental property, although a
few places offer ownership opportunities. Of
85 new homes in Larkspur’s Rose Lane development, six were sold “at below market cost
through the Marin Housing Authority’s First
Time Homebuyers Program,” states the developer’s website. According to sales personnel,
they sold out before construction began.
For buying affordable housing, a basic for-
mula applies: The price is set so that someone
earning, say, 60 percent of Marin’s median
annual income buys the home for below market
price. “However,” adds Russell, “once a home is
sold as affordable, it must remain affordable —
an owner can not resell it at market rate.”
On September 23, ground was broken on
10 two-story detached three-bedroom, two-
bath family homes. This affordable project, Mt.
Burdell Place, is being developed by Habitat
for Humanity of Greater San Francisco and is
within walking distance of downtown Novato.
“Prices will be affordable to lower-income work-
ing families,” says planner Thomas; “that way,
people will be living in a home they can afford.”
The developments mentioned above are
fully occupied, with a long list of potential
renters and buyers waiting for openings. To
maintain diversity, help reduce commuter
traffic and create a more engaged community,
Marin County would do well to build more —
much more — affordable housing. That’s my
point of view. What’s yours?
MEN TION AFFORDABLE HOUS- ING in Marin and you’ll hear a variety of opinions. It’s for low-income workers and infirm elders and (heard most
often) it’s subsidized housing. All these things are
often true, but affordable housing is much more.
According to Leelee Thomas, principal
planner for the county, there are “over 6,600
units of affordable housing in Marin.” And,
truth be told, they’re hard to spot. Some of the
more visible are The Fireside Apartments,
50 family and senior dwellings on Shoreline
Highway in unincorporated Mill Valley. If you
want to know what Fireside units look like,
visit the website — they’re stunning. Equally
impressive are affordable projects in Tiburon,
Kentfield, San Rafael and San Anselmo.
In Corte Madera, units in a project called
San Clemente Place rent for $400 to $1,895 a
month, and tucked into the hillside behind the
Marin Country Mart in Larkspur Landing is
Drake’s Way, with 24 homes, many leased to
seniors who’ve lived in Marin for years.
“The people who live in affordable housing are
people we need in our community,” says Colin
Russell, the project’s architect. “Not just police
and firefighters, but teachers, grandparents, care-
givers and retail personnel — who are now driving
in from Vallejo, Pinole and San Ramon.”
And what does “affordable housing” mean?
“It means people are living in a home they can
afford,” answers Thomas. “A family earning
less than $78,000 a year, or about 80 percent
of Marin’s median income, would pay $1,950 a
month for an apartment, which equates to an
affordable 30 percent of their annual income.”
Marin’s median income for a family of four,
according to the U.S. Department of Housing
and Urban Development, is $97, 100 a year. To
be considered low income in Marin, a family of four can’t be earning more than about
$78,000 a year. “Because incomes are so high
in Marin, many seniors and working families