The League of Women Voters of Marin County has released a new study aimed at dispelling what it describes as myths surrounding affordable housing and Plan Bay Area.
The long-term planning document for nine Bay Area municipalities seeks to concentrate new development near transportation hubs, while protecting open space from new housing and was approved in July.
The study, released last week, seeks to recalibrate the term “affordable housing,” pointing out that a family with an annual median income of $75,000 is considered low-income by Marin standards, where the average median income is $103,000. That means people who work as teachers, bank tellers, EMTs and paramedics, not say anything about those in service-sector jobs, all can’t afford to live in Marin.
When it comes to housing, the median-priced home in the county (as of this June) cost nearly $800,000 with a down payment of $80,000, while the median-priced condo cost $330,000, with a $33,000 down payment.
“These figures prevent many workers in Marin’s major employment sectors from buying in Marin, including those middle class families who could buy a home elsewhere, but not in Marin where they work,” write the authors. “When families ‘drive ‘til they qualify,’ they add considerable transportation costs to their family budgets, not to speak of impacts to family life, the economy, freeway congestion and the environment.”
Another frequent “myth” the report seeks to dispel is that Plan Bay Area forces cities to give up control. But the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments have no direct say over land use decisions, with cities still having the final say when it comes to approving new projects, according to the study.
All new projects would continue to be reviewed for design, traffic and environmental impacts while zoning will remain “the province of local municipalities.”
On the subject of density, the authors say the public often imagines high-density urban public housing projects built after World War II that were a magnet for crime. Instead, Marin would continue to have some of the lowest density in the Bay Area, between 20 to 30 housing units per acre, built in a way that correspondents with the surroundings.
“The important of controlled density in Marin is that it preserves our open spaces and farmland by preventing sprawl,” the authors write.
Critics of affordable housing have often said that it draws more crime. In Novato, they pointed to Bay Vista, a housing complex in Hamilton that had some criminal activity. But that may have had more to do with lack of screening of tenants than a true reflection of everyone who lives in affordable housing, the study found.
“Novato is a good example of the incidence of crime not being correlated with a project’s density or its tenants’ income levels, but is related to how well a property is managed and how thoroughly the tenants are screened. It also depends very heavily on the rules governing the tenants and how strictly they are enforced.”
What do you think about some of the points made in the study? Is it important to build more housing for middle class Marin residents? Sound off in the comments below.