Increasing Affordable Housing: Results

Increasing Affordable Housing: Results

Highlights of progress through February 2011

Strategy 1: Public support, zoning changes

To date, $1.6 million has been invested under this strategy. Efforts in this area began with policy work led by the Foundation’s Marin Community Housing Initiative (MCHAI). This strategy is designed to increase public support for affordable housing and influence zoning changes that encourage new housing production. MCHAI’s strategy is to focus on four targeted jurisdictions—the unincorporated area of Marin and the cities of Novato, San Rafael, and San Anselmo. In each area, MCHAI is supporting advocacy, public education, and lobbying activities for public policies that pave the way for new housing development.

As an example of MCHAI’s work, in response to the debate over the Housing Element in Novato, local residents formed the group Stand Up for Neighborly Novato, which aims to implement policies that provide reasonably-priced housing options to help their community and preserve Novato’s hometown character. The program founders believe the debate should be fact-based, respectful of community dialogue, inclusive of all voices, and focused on making Novato a more neighborly community. The group received funding from MCHAI to continue its organizing in support of affordable housing.

Another MCHAI-funded effort is “Miles from Home,” a report released by Live Local Marin that explores the impact of the mismatch between the workforce in Marin and its available housing. The report states that people who commute to jobs in Marin (60% of the county’s workforce) earn about $44,000 per year, about $12,000 less than is needed to afford the rent for a one-bedroom apartment. Two of the key research findings are that Marin houses less of its workforce than any other county in the Bay Area, and that Marin’s workforce drives more miles per worker than any other workforce in the region, contributing to two million pounds of carbon released into the atmosphere each day.

Strategy 2: Investments to develop housing

Grants in the amount of $750,000 for new housing development have resulted in the creation of eight new units, including the renovation of two rental units in West Marin and the purchase of six Real Estate Owned (REO) properties in Novato and San Rafael. The Blue House (two rental units) in West Marin is the first certified passive house in California.

The purchase of bank-owned homes aims to stabilize neighborhoods hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis by rehabilitating these homes in partnership with nonprofit developers. When the rehabilitation of these properties is complete, eight families, representing 29 individuals, will be affordably housed.

While the number of REO homes produced through this strategy over the past 24 months accounts for a fraction of the housing needed, there are some issues of note. First, Marin County is not yet seeing a decrease in the number of foreclosed homes on the market. While Novato still has the highest number of foreclosed homes in Marin, the cities of Fairfax, San Rafael, and Mill Valley also have REO properties. Secondly, with the Foundation’s investment, nonprofits were able to take advantage of the current market conditions to negotiate favorable purchase prices of $250,000-$280,000 for a single-family home, almost half of the per-unit cost for new construction. The REO acquisitions have been well-received in each neighborhood and have created opportunities for new construction, including an eight-unit housing development in Marin City that is in the final stages of a feasibility study. Most importantly, however, the REO model creates opportunity for the Foundation to take a lead role in developing new financing models that add to the methods by which affordable housing can be achieved in the county.

Strategy 3: Helping people at risk of homelessness

Investments of $345,000 helped people on the verge of homeless become, or remain, affordably housed. About half of this investment was used to leverage $680,000 in federal Emergency Contingency Funding. Together, these funds helped keep over 1,094 people in Marin in their homes. Foundation investments of $171,000 kept 150 people affordably housed who did not qualify for any other form of housing support.

Under this strategy, the Foundation has been leading an effort to address the quality of housing for agricultural workers in the county. At an initial stakeholder meeting in October, 2010, the Foundation convened growers, nonprofit developers, funders, representatives of agricultural workers, and county representatives. They are now developing recommendations to support new or rehabilitated agricultural worker housing in the unincorporated areas of West Marin, on park land, and on private property.

In addition, there are ongoing efforts to solicit direct input from the two groups that will be most affected by this process: the ranchers and the workers. A community survey attempting to reach as many as 100 workers is being conducted by a nonprofit partner in collaboration with the Foundation’s evaluation staff. This is the first known survey to include the perspectives of agricultural workers on the issue of housing. Additionally, a consultant on this project is conducting a telephone survey of a sample of ranchers to better understand the benefits and impediments to creating housing for workers. Together, these two outreach efforts are gathering data on the quality of existing housing, the perceived need for improved housing, the desired aspects of such improvements, and the preferences and limitations regarding participating in a potential program. This data will help articulate the purpose, goals, and scope of the agricultural housing program.

By the numbers:

Area of Measurement Through 2/11 Goal of Strategic Plan
Acres zoned for affordable housing 120 acres identified for zoning 40 acres zoned for affordable housing
Number of low-income and very low-income people on the verge of homelessness who have maintained their housing 1,303 6,150 after five years
Number of foreclosed homes purchased 6 TBD

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