It’s a new year, but the housing market in Marin just isn’t getting any better. Apartments still rent for an average of $1,500 per month, making living here unaffordable to households earning less than $60,000 annually. Families who are already priced out of the rental market find purchasing a home unattainable, even as foreclosed homes and condominiums are driving sale prices down.
Communities understand the need for better local living options. So what’s getting in the way of providing more affordable homes for residents and workers in Marin?
One of the chief impediments is the notoriously unpredictable, expensive, and lengthy process required to build new apartments in Marin. This is one of Marin’s most timely issues. The Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday, January 24th on whether or not to streamline the development process.
The problem is that nonprofit developers are often burdened with funding zoning changes, general plan amendments, master plans, use permits, and environmental reviews, adding multiple hearings and increased costs to a project.
Several of Marin’s affordable communities took eight years or more to be completed after the nonprofit had submitted architectural plans. In the current environment of limited public resources, combined with high land prices and construction costs, even the most efficient affordable housing developers are no longer able to risk the expenses, time, and uncertainty of running Marin’s gauntlet of project approval.
Take, for example, Point Reyes Family Homes in West Marin. Located near Point Reyes Station, this lovely community of 28 rental duplexes offers a quiet, relaxed atmosphere with panoramic views of the surrounding hills. While its construction took under two years and was completed in 2005, it took eight years from EAH Housing’s initial application until the first families were able to move in.
“It cost a fortune,” remembers project manager Lamar Turner. “It shouldn’t take so long and cost so much to do an affordable housing development.”
By Turner’s estimate, the unnecessarily lengthy process leading up to actual construction (including a redundant community survey) increased costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the county wants to see more local living options, it needs to take steps in advance – before recruiting a developer.
Jurisdictions should apply these four key components to “set the table” for recruiting high-quality affordable housing developers to build the homes that Marin so desperately needs:
- Handle zoning changes and General Plan amendments in advance. This way, a developer knows what the rules are going to be before purchasing the site and investing thousands of dollars on plans and designs.
- Eliminate duplicative hearing processes, including master plan requirements. A community’s vision for a given site can be established through advanced planning and Marin’s extensive design review process. Additional requirements for things such as master plans don’t lead to better design or greater community input, but do come at great expense.
- Either allow or disallow multiunit housing: don’t “allow with conditions to be determined later.” This is otherwise known as requiring a use permit (sometimes also calledconditional use permit). It creates an untenable level of uncertainty and is often the greatest contributor to increased costs of building affordable homes in Marin.
- Return design review to its original purpose – getting good design. If a proposal meets all the terms of the existing zoning, its general plan designation, and any operating community plans, then design review should only be about the design of the property, not extraneous issues such as whether the proposal has the right to build at the allowed density or should even be built at all. Unfortunately, this happens often—adding again to the time and public cost it takes to develop.
If Marin can follow these guidelines and streamline the review process, affordable housing developers will be much more willing to come to Marin and provide our workforce and residents with the local living options they need.
Please show your support for affordable homes in the county by writing your Supervisor today.