The housing solutions meeting held by Fred Smith last Wednesday at the Dance Palace was well-attended by those who care deeply about housing issues in West Marin, with many contributing up-to-date information. Surprisingly, few of the people whom I think need the most help attended the meeting; the audience was devoid of familiar Latino faces and poorly attended by young parents and artists who grew up out here. I’m worried about them.
Although Smith’s well-researched presentation focused on solutions for the housing density problem for the median-wage earner in West Marin, low-income or homeless problems were not addressed. (For context, the median household income in Point Reyes Station was $72,690 in 2011.) And while the statistics he presented for the median-income earner were alarming, many locals try desperately to live here while eking out very small or fixed incomes and paying well over the 40 percent of monthly income Smith cited as too high for median-income residents. What money remains after paying rent is much different for low-income earners when it comes to buying food here.
For moderate-income residents, Smith suggested “deed-restricted housing,” which would require a change in county ordinances and offer incentives to owners to sell at the “median income affordable rate”; helping buyers streamline inspection, permitting, property improvements and septic expenses; offering a reward to owners who rent at the median affordable rate (such as a bonus of two-times the density rate); and offering owners incentives to return vacation units to rental units.
Some locations Smith mentioned for potential rental units included the D Street strip where the Pinecone Diner is (for second-floor flats) and, intriguingly, the Coast Guard base, with its 39 housing units. Unfortunately the facility does not have a septic system; the Coast Guard has been trucking the stuff out for the last 40 years.
Smith offered some novel solutions, including the creation of a West Marin housing trust fund similar to the one in Bolinas, possibly administered by the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin. That organization has worked hard to address housing problems here, rescuing and renting eight units, with a founding purpose of providing and preserving “permanently affordable access to land, decent housing and workplaces for community members of low or moderate income.”
But because CLAM follows Housing and Urban Development guidelines, qualifications for rent applications restrict its assistance to those with incomes of at least three times the rent, or $36,000 for a $1,000 per month unit, considered HUD’s “low-income.” One dishwasher in Point Reyes makes $21,800, qualifying as HUD’s “extremely-low income.” For most housing-insecure locals who run out of money well before the end of each month, CLAM can’t offer much. If the organization is unable to help the poor and address their sense of hopelessness, it is time to create a new organization that focuses on advocacy.
It is also clear to me that a generational divide may be causing some unnecessary disconnect within our community. While most of the young or middle-aged people in West Marin can be contacted instantly using social media, a few folks at the meeting said they would opt-out of any email list or would not join Facebook. If we want to reach all sectors of the West Marin population these days, it is necessary to have a multi-focal and bilingual communication patchwork that includes direct mail, the two newspapers, KWMR, email lists, websites, social media, the libraries and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. If we don’t do that, the generational and cultural divide in this community will only get worse.
Peggy Day has been a renter in West Marin for the better part of the last 40 years.