HOUSING: The San Geronimo Valley Affordable Housing Association is buying the mobile home park in Forest Knolls, ensuring that rents will remain reasonable for the 19 homes on the site.    David Briggs

In a win for affordable-housing advocates, the nonprofit San Geronimo Valley Affordable Housing Association on Tuesday formally agreed to purchase the historic Forest Knolls Trailer Court for $1,395,000 from Marin County, which had purchased the property from its original owners last October. The sale came with a pledge to maintain the trailers as affordable housing units in perpetuity, a move celebrated by concerned valley residents who have watched warily for years as new residents have flocked to the area, driving up real estate values.

“Living in the valley has become a very desirable place to live,” said Suzanne Sadowsky, the association’s president and a 45-year resident. “What this does is allow people to stay. We’ve been able to find a significant solution to what is described as a housing crisis in our community.”

The sale accompanied a second deal that transferred $617,198 to the association through a 55-year, one-percent-interest loan from the county’s In-Lieu Housing Trust Fund for the purchase as well as for a number of rehabilitation projects, including an overhaul of the property’s 40-year-old septic system, repaving paths between homes and the bus stop and repairs to water pipelines and electric wires. The association will also receive a $1,217,185 loan from the Marin Community Foundation and a $324,000 loan from the Marin Workforce Housing Trust.

Supervisors praised the sale and the loan, which they portrayed as a model for future affordable-housing deals in the county. They unanimously approved the sale just hours prior to a workshop on affordable housing in Marin, during which the park sale and loan program were widely touted as exemplary solutions to the county’s housing shortage.

“This is a program that helps people help themselves and then revolves back,” said Supervisor Steve Kinsey. “These are loans, not handouts.”

Located at 6690 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the trailer park consists of 19 prefab, permanent trailers or mobile homes set on 20 spaces. The park dates back to the 1940s and was owned for a long span by Don Yerion, who passed it down to his children after he died in 2009. Originally, the trailers were used as temporary housing for seasonal laborers working, for instance, in forestry or at the building shipyards in Marin City.

Last October, the county purchased the park, using funds from a $10.9 million reserve account, from the family-run limited liability company that owned it for the same price that was on the table Tuesday.

“This is a proud day,” said Supervisor Kinsey, who lives in the valley. “We took care of a community neighborhood that was quiet and respectful but in danger of being taken away. These are people who have been making the community what it is for decades, and this is a way to support them.”

Many park residents are seniors who, without low rent, could not to keep living there. Additionally, the park hosts a share of the county’s workforce, including a librarian who works in nearby Fairfax. 

Families living on the property own their trailers but pay rent—about $575 per month according to last year’s estimates—to the association to occupy the land. That rent and a small charge for electricity, according to Ms. Sadowsky, represents the revenue that the association will use to repay its three loans.

“Based on our management experience, we know what to expect in terms of projected income,” Ms. Sadowsky said. “All of this was built into the budget.”

Ms. Sadowsky added that the association will now have the option to make offers to buy mobile homes on its property and rent those spaces to long-term tenants. She also indicated the association may consider purchasing and placing a mobile home on the one vacant space, with the option to either own that home or rent it out.

Since last October’s sale, the county has left management of the park to the association, in preparation for the present-day transfer. Since then, the job of maintaining the park has been left to the site manager, Denise Santa Cruz-Bohman, who has lived in her trailer there with her husband for 25 years.

“Know that the tenants are happy about this,” Ms. Santa Cruz-Bohman said. “There were five or six sales that could have gone through that would have ended the homes here or made it too expensive to live.”

“It really is a blessing for us who live there,” she said.