Rental programs nab more funds

08/15/2018

Sarah Cane is well aware that it would be far more lucrative to rent her property’s second unit on Airbnb. Instead, she is using the unit to provide affordable housing in Point Reyes Station through the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin’s Real Community Rentals Program. 

“[CLAM] guided me, and there was a clear sense that this was the right thing to do for this community—and that felt important to me,” Ms. Cane said. 

In fact, without the program, she may never have created the unit at all. 

Since the Real Community Rentals Program began, CLAM has developed 13 new affordable rentals, most of which were existing spaces—either spare bedrooms or second units—simply lying empty. 

For qualifying homeowners, the nonprofit provides tenant pre-screening, extensive damage repairs and zero-interest loans to repair, rehabilitate or create second units. In exchange, landlords must agree to offer a one-year lease to tenants who make less than 80 percent of the area median income. The rent itself must not exceed 35 percent of a tenant's income. 

Ruth Lopez, CLAM’s community engagement coordinator and property manager, said the loss-mitigation funds and security deposit assistance offered by the program were “enough to encourage reluctant homeowners to become
landlords.” 

The program was one of two landlord incentive programs renewed by the Board of Supervisors last week. Supervisors gave CLAM $55,000 to continue its program, and $450,000 to the Marin Housing Authority for its Landlord Partnership Program, also created in 2016. 

That countywide program provides incentives to landlords participating in the Housing Choice voucher program—otherwise known as Section 8. 

According to Debbi La Rue, a planner at the Marin County Community Development Agency, the Landlord Partnership Program and a fair housing ordinance adopted in 2016 together helped increase the likelihood that Section 8 voucher holders would be able to secure a rental from 37 percent in 2016 to 59 percent in 2018. 

“This program has exceeded expectations,” Supervisor Damon Connolly said last Tuesday. 

Since the program was established, 94 new landlords have offered Section 8 housing, bringing the total to 900. 

The Section 8 program in Marin receives $37 million a year in federal funds; voucher funds that are not utilized are eliminated the following year, diminishing the number available in an area. Currently, there are 2,100 voucher holders in Marin. 

Supervisor Connolly said that before the incentive program was initiated, he heard from many who held vouchers but had trouble finding an opportunity to use them, most notably senior women, working families, people with disabilities and veterans. 

“Our most vulnerable communities were facing homelessness despite holding vouchers,” he said. “I’m pleased to see this report of our success and wholeheartedly support continued funding for the program.” 

For CLAM, the new county contract will help it build on its partnership with the Bolinas Community Land Trust and the San Geronimo Valley Affordable Housing Association to expand its reach. The nonprofit aims to create 25 new affordable units and monitor long-term affordability. 

Under their contracts, both the housing authority and CLAM are also required to develop new marketing plans and must submit semiannual progress reports to a planning manager. 

Skip Schwartz, executive director of West Marin Senior Services, said he wholeheartedly supported the programs’ renewal. 

“West Marin acutely feels the housing shortage,” he said. “We’re losing our workforce—it’s just so hard for people, and for the seniors it’s magnified. This really helps.”