Marin County and its cities and towns should create a regional organization, or empower an existing authority, to coordinate efforts to create more affordable housing, according to a new civil grand jury report.
The grand jury said that while researching the report, it “heard that Marin County, cities and towns resisted working together on housing policy.”
The report highlights that there is a new incentive for collaboration. He notes that the state has “significantly increased” the number of homes that counties, cities and towns are required to build, and that the legislature has passed legislation that will limit local control over housing construction if jurisdictions fail to create the assigned number of slots.
“The task before the county and municipalities of Marin is to build more affordable housing while maintaining local control,” the grand jury wrote. “Achieving these goals will require increased nationwide cooperation at the highest level of government.”
The grand jury sees a number of benefits to increased cooperation. But one overshadows everything else: the ability to pool the expertise and resources needed to access funding.
“With the high cost of land and construction in Marin, it is nearly impossible to build affordable housing without subsidies,” the grand jury said. “A county-wide approach would help jurisdictions navigate the complex landscape of accessing these grants.”
A recent Los Angeles Times article looked at seven affordable housing projects in Northern California where development cost exceeded $1 million per residence.
The grand jury noted that nearly all new affordable housing is built by specialist nonprofit organizations such as Eden Housing, EAH Housing, Homeward Bound and Marin Community Housing. These non-profit organizations use grants and tax breaks to increase funding for projects.
Financial support for affordable housing comes from a variety of sources, including state funding with revenue coming from a $75 registration fee on real estate documents that was put in place by Governor Jerry Brown in 2017.
Other sources include the Marin County Affordable Housing Fund; local banks meeting the requirements of the Community Investment Act; federal block grants for community development; the Marin Community Foundation; low-income housing tax benefits for joint venture partners; and government land donations.
“Currently, there is no central repository of affordable housing subsidy information in the county,” the report said. “Such a resource could help developers find grants for affordable housing.”
The jury said a regional authority could also coordinate the awarding of royalties “in lieu” by developers. Most jurisdictions require large housing developments to set aside a percentage of their residences for low- and middle-income housing, but they allow developers to avoid this requirement by paying a fee “in place”.
“In theory, the funds from this levy can be used to subsidize other public housing, but in practice that doesn’t always happen,” the grand jury said.
Marin could coordinate its affordable housing efforts in two ways: by creating a new regional authority or by charging an existing authority, the report says. He cites examples in other Bay Area counties.
San Mateo County has created a program called “21 Elements,” which unites the efforts of the county and its 20 cities. Solano County established the Solano City County Coordinating Board, which consists of county supervisors and representatives from each municipality.
The grand jury noted that in 2006, the Transportation Authority of Marin, an agency of joint powers of the county and its 11 cities and towns, considered establishing a city county planning committee to provide a public forum for collaboration on housing, transport, land use and sustainability. problems.
The committee, which would have been made up of elected county and municipal leaders, would have sought grants and other housing funding opportunities and coordinated updates to the housing elements of the jurisdictions’ master plans, among other functions.
The grand jury wrote that while there was consensus that such a committee would be beneficial, the proposal was ultimately dropped due to fears it would divert personnel and resources from TAM’s primary goals. , and due to a lack of will to make it happen.
“It was a crucial missed opportunity,” the report said.
Reacting to the report, Leslie Mendez, San Rafael Planning Manager, said, “I wholeheartedly support a regional approach to sharing ideas, information and resources.
“Any synergy or efficiencies that we can achieve through collaboration is invaluable,” Mendez said. “Will this make a dent in the global crisis? Maybe not.”
Tom Lai, director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, said he agreed with the grand jury’s assessment of the lack of affordable housing and labor, regulatory barriers to increased supply of affordable housing and housing change from the state legislature. .
“But in my initial assessment of the recommendations, the challenges associated with intergovernmental collaboration cannot be overcome simply by creating another regional entity,” Lai said.
Lai noted that through the housing task force formed in 2018, the county and its cities and towns are working cooperatively in a number of areas around affordable housing, including coordination around housing elements, housing policy, pooled funding and staffing.
“While I appreciate the civil grand jury shedding more light on this critical issue, we have successful regional models to build on, and I look forward to exploring deeper collaboration with our cities and towns on this common question,” Lai said.