“Change Is Hard: A Look at Affordable Housing Issue in Marin County”

By: Stephanie Diana Wilson

Anyone who lives in California knows driving on highway 101 can be a nightmare. This is more so the truth for those of us living in the North Bay region of the San Francisco bay area. For those who are not aware a lot of the traffic stems from the fact that so many people live in Sonoma County and have to commute to Marin or San Francisco counties for work. Part of the reason that these people have to commute is the fact that housing prices to buy or rent in Marin and San Francisco Counties are astronomical! Thus everyone is on the road trying to get to work by 9am and get home after 5pm. Making a commute from Santa Rosa to Novato which is only 30 miles take almost 2 hours one way!

So the plan was put in place to build a SMART train. This train is meant to carry passengers from Sonoma County to the boarder of Marin and San Francisco counties so that those people can take other public transit to their destinations. Thus relieving traffic and stimulating the economy while helping to keep the air quality high in this part of the bay. Also per the agreements for this project a number of “mixed use”, (code word for condos that may have commercial space and/ or affordable housing deed restrictions). Which again would boost the economy, reduce traffic and better the environment while diversifying the community.
However, change can be difficult and not all people respond well to change. As seen on the news report on Channel 2 news in May of 2014 (http://www.ktvu.com/news/news/local/debate-over-larkspur-development-heats/nf6X9/ ) as referenced in the link provided people came out to protest not the train directly but the prospect of “mixed use” housing being created in Marin County. It is constantly debated throughout the country if affordable housing hurts a community especially in affluent areas. Although few realize how discriminatory these protests are and the reason no one is countering the argument? Because, they are too busy working and trying to get home before midnight to do it all over again due to traffic and being unable to afford to live in or near the area they work in.

These opponents have even gone so far as to try and get the taxes being used for the project repealed on the November ballots. This can be seen in the news article from KTVU channel 2 news here http://www.ktvu.com/news/news/local-govt-politics/marin-county-signature-count-confirms-repealsmart-/nHLBZ/ . These same people have started blogs and even a facebook page on the matter, https://m.facebook.com/StopSmart?_rdr. One of the excuses I find the most comical excuses that many have given for protesting the affordable housing project plan along the smart train stop in Larkspur is that more people will cause more traffic instead of focusing on the benefits of having a stronger public transit system and how it will lessen traffic, better the environment and stimulate the economy by making it affordable and desirable to work in this area of the bay.

What is really the issue is that people are concerned that this will change the dynamic of the community and potentially hurt housing and rent prices. City Data.com notes that there is a large amount of renters in the area of Marin County and for a family of two the average income is $89,000 which still makes them unable to afford to buy. They also note that there is a lack of diversity in this county. See the stats noted at http://www.city-data.com/county/Marin_County-CA.html. Patch.com notes that one has to make almost $37 an hour which the article can be noted on http://patch.com/california/novato/examining-the-unaffordability-of-marin-s-typical-rent#.U_AVp_ldXg0 just to afford to live in this area. Zillow even noted that the average housing price in Marin County is over $800,000 which again makes this area only attainable to the super rich. This info can be seen from Zillow at http://www.zillow.com/marin-county-ca/home-values/. Also Novato.org, notes on their affordable housing is up to date with the state mandates. It also notes that to be applicable for affordable housing in Marin County a family of 4 must make less than a $103,000 per year. Again this info can be found at http://www.cityofnovato.org/Index.aspx?page=500. Per the SFgate.com website the median income of the bay area is just over $57,000 per year where the average median income for Marin County is over $83,000 per year as seen on their page http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Bay-Area-income-beats-state-U-S-census-shows-2309174.php.

What this implies is that the local community in Marin County is afraid of the change and afraid of the impact of having lower income community members. This is short sighted since the community members range in age and family status and much of the affordable housing caters to the senior community thus making them able to stay in the community they love. Also this serves the disabled who again to accommodate themselves want to be near the community their family are in. Also hard working people in the service industry who are trying to provide for their families and have a work/ life balance like the rest of us by being closer to their job. Isn’t that the American dream to be able to afford to just live? No, it is to have basic comforts like home and not be oppressed. And the rates for rent and home ownership are oppressive. Change is hard but, necessary and beneficial to the community.

If you want to see more articles on housing please see my blog on wordpress.com at https://stephaniewilsongast.wordpress.com/ or my articles on politics at http://hellabaymagazine.com/,

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