County considers affordable-housing quotas

Sept. 29, 2010

Tim Omarzu

Should Marin County and all of its cities join together as a unit to meet state and regional mandates to provide affordable housing?

That idea was discussed by the Marin County Board of Supervisors during an affordable-housing discussion at the board’s Sept. 23 meeting.

Supervisor Charles McGlashan wanted to make sure that if all of Marin’s governments banded together as a “subregion,” the county wouldn’t get saddled with more than its share of affordable housing in unincorporated areas.

Years ago, the last time the cities and the county joined together to meet housing quotas, the county got “hammered.” McGlashan said.

McGlashan asked Community Development Agency Director Brian Crawford, “Do you sense a risk that the county would get bulldozed?”

Crawford said that every city involved in the process would have the same fear.

“That’s the biggest challenge, the biggest hurdle to overcome,” he said.

Asked how things went in San Mateo County when governments there formed a subregion to meet housing goals, Crawford said that, in the end, the agreement they reached looked like the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, issued by ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments.

County officials also are grappling with some unexpected news: Marin can’t get as much credit from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, or HCD, as county officials had expected for the conversion of the Ridgeway Apartments in Marin City from market-rate housing to 100 percent affordable housing.

“We thought we were going to be able to count all 153 units that were converted, and were only able to count 34,” said county Principal Planner Lealya Thomas.

Supervisor Susan Adams, who serves on ABAG’s regional planning committee, said that other “challenges” the county faces include assisted living for senior citizens doesn’t count toward the county’s affordable-housing quotas.

Adams also questioned the state’s designating a minimum density of 30 units per acre in the unincorporated county and in Marin’s two largest cities, San Rafael and Novato.

Affordable-housing advocates spoke in favor of that density.

Whitney Merchant of the Greenbelt Alliance told supervisors: “Every single one of you has a different image in their head of what it looks like. It depends on the size of the units; it depends on the design.”

She cited Lone Palm Court, a three-story yellow, red and green building on Second and D streets in downtown San Rafael that has 72 units per acre and has units for very low-income tenants.

She said that while Marin’s mandated housing density of 30 units per acre is the same as Oakland’s and San Francisco’s, developers in those big cities construct buildings with 80 to 90 units per acre.

“It’s not going to make us look anything like those,” Merchant said.

Supervisor Steve Kinsey said that while people were “choking” over the 30-units-per-acre density, a 150-unit development would take up only 5 acres.

The county needs to revise the draft housing element of the county’s general plan to provide 145 units of housing affordable to lower-income households, including extremely low, very low and low income, during the current planning cycle from 2007 to 2014. Overall, the county needs to rezone land to provide a total 320 units of affordable housing.

The supervisors voted to direct staff to identify sites for the 145 units. The county planning commission will review the sites and the list will come back to supervisors for final approval with public hearings along the way.

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http://marinscope.com/articles/2010/09/29/news_pointer/news/doc4ca38b97532f2901071823.txt

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