In second workshop for women, Bolinas residents discuss struggles and sucesseses in finding homes

12/18/2019

How have you made West Marin your home despite limited affordable housing? Women across four generations gathered in the Bolinas firehouse last Thursday night to swap their stories, share frustrations and find creative solutions at an event hosted by the Bolinas Community Land Trust and the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin. The trusts were among 11 groups to receive grants from the West Marin Fund in the last two years for programs aimed at empowering women and girls; CLAM organized Thursday’s workshop, following a similar one held in Point Reyes Station in November. “We thought it would be great to bring women together and address what women are already doing in terms of creating housing solutions for themselves and others and, through that, explore what the next steps might be,” said Kim Thompson, CLAM’s executive director. The trust’s program manager, Ruth Lopez, described the ways that women across four generations—the Silent Generation, baby boomers, Generation X and millennials—generally tend to approach housing. Gen X, she said, bought into the American dream that buying a house was the number-one way to build wealth, but was hit the hardest when home prices fell between 2007 and 2010; many in this group are now middle-aged and renting. Millennials, on the other hand, are fleeing high-cost urban areas or choosing to live with their parents, she said. Ms. Lopez asked each attendee to share her story, and how it might align or diverge from the trends of her peers. Every one of the roughly 25 women described resourcefulness. Some homeowners said that after their children had grown up or their husbands passed away, they had started renting out units or rooms to help make their mortgage and provide affordable housing for others. Some with young families described squeezing into tiny spaces to keep costs lower; others described experiencing extreme stress as they moved from rental to rental as their savings dwindled. Kelsy Henke, a special education teacher who recently moved with her husband and child into a Bolinas rental, said she did not see home ownership in her future, despite knowing that she might be missing out on something. “I’m from the Midwest, where everyone owns multiple homes by my age,” she said. “My creative solution here has been to live in 350 square feet, and we made that work with three humans for as long as possible. But in my dream housing situation, my money is going to a public or community entity, rather than someone who wants to make money off my housing.” Her interest in opportunities for group housing was echoed by many in the room, as was her need for some level of independence and privacy. Ms. Lopez underscored after the meeting that there was also strong interest in group housing—such as cooperatives and joint ownership—expressed at the Point Reyes Station workshop. Local housing groups already have facilitated such arrangements, such as a house CLAM helped two couples purchase together in Inverness. Though the yearlong West Marin Fund grants have been spent—primarily on professional development for their women staffers—both Ms. Thompson and Arianne Dar, the Bolinas trust’s executive director, said the feedback from the workshops would be incorporated into the trusts’ priorities moving forward.