Stand Up for Neighborly Novato is the newest grassroots organization to enter the affordable housing debate — as an advocate.
“We formed because we’re concerned about the negative, divisive tone the housing debate has taken,” said Annan Paterson, a co-founder of the group.
“The debate has been lopsided and we want an opportunity for other voices in support of affordable housing to be included,” said Paterson, a former College of Marin trustee and longtime school counselor. “We’re getting comments about people fearful of entering the debate because it’s so divisive.”
The group has formed a Facebook page and created an endorsement form for residents to sign and show their support. They have also created a website, www.neighborlynovato.org, so people can find out more about the organization and their mission.
On the website, Stand Up for Neighborly Novato provides examples of affordable housing they say meets the state’s guidelines and is also well-designed, fitting in with the surrounding community.
“We formed Stand Up for Neighborly Novato because Novato’s hometown character will be lost unless we provide reasonably-priced housing options to young families, seniors and Novato’s workers,” co-founder Katie Crecelius added.
Novato is required to submit a housing element plan to the state for certification in 2011. An ad hoc citizen’s working group, formed by City Manager Michael Frank, is identifying locations, densities and other factors to make recommendations to the Novato City Council on the plan.
“Our goal is to work with the City Manager’s Ad Hoc Working Group and the Novato City Councilmembers to build a consensus around a housing element that the state can certify. Only then can we be sure that Novato’s future is on solid footing,” Crecelius said.
Crecelius, along with Stand Up's co-founders Marie Chan and Marla Fields, are also serving on the ad hoc working group.
The city's housing element plan needs to designate sites to be zoned for 1241 units of affordable housing on a seven-year timeline to meet the state’s requirement. Already 572 affordable homes have been built or approved towards that quota.
Of the remaining 669 units required it is the 313 units of affordable housing in the category of low and extremely low-income that have been the most contentious and debated at city’s housing element workshops, particularly over the density component.
At the held by the city, Community Development Director Dave Wallace said that there is an option to provide a feasibility study in lieu of meeting the high-density minimum requirement of 30 units per acre. But the study would have to demonstrate to the state how affordable housing requirements would still be met.
Wallace said ignoring the state’s mandate, as some opponents have proposed, could possibly jeopardize state funding and open the city up to lawsuits.
Paterson said that some of the co-founders of the group have met with Assemblyman Jared Huffman and support his proposed legislative changes to the way that quotas for affordable housing are assigned by the state.
But Paterson feels that the required number of 313 units of low-income housing is not unreasonable for the current and future needs of Novato.
“We understand that folks are working on changing the legislation on the requirements but in the meantime, that requirement is there, and we know that the need is there without the requirement,” Paterson said.
Other groups that have formed around the issue of affordable housing include Citizens for Balanced Housing and the San Marin Compatible Housing Association.