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MEHC Stands for Environmentally Friendly Affordable Housing
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Affordable housing is hard, why bother?

Because it's important to everyone in Marin.

People who work here and don't live here.
Residents who need the services of those people.
People stuck in traffic, seniors stuck in too-large homes with too little money.
Young people with little chance to raise a family in the town where they grew up.
Nurses, teachers, restaurant servers and administrative assistants.
Oh, and the culture keepers... writers and artists and musicians and actors and chefs.

 Affordable housing is important for our quality of life. Less time in traffic. Healthier buildings. Cleaner air. Conserving water and electricity. Doing our part in all ways.

There's no shortage of reasons to support environmentally friendly affordable housing. MEHC will keep exploring how to get it done, with your help. Thanks for reading.


Something to Celebrate... Success: OMA VILLAGE!


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By the end of the year – and after five years of persistent effort – Oma Village will welcome its first residents. This ground-breaking, employment-focused housing, designed particularly for families with children, is the kind of environmentally friendly affordable housing that MEHC supports. It offers twelve 2-bedroom/2-bath and two 1-bedroom/1-bath apartments on a small lot on Nave Drive in Novato, an infill location close to jobs, transit and other services and away from environmentally sensitive areas.

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Affordability and services for homeless families

MEHC applauds this Homeward Bound development, which will provide formerly homeless families with healthy, safe, affordable and service-enriched housing. Building family stability for families moving out of homelessness requires a variety of supportive services. The supportive services at Oma Village will include coaching in education, career and financial planning geared to creating assets.

Through fundraising with individual donors, foundation grants and County funding, Homeward Bound capitalized, rather than borrowed, 95% of the project cost. So, Oma Village does not have to rely on rents to cover its development costs, allowing this housing to operate sustainably at very low cost to its new tenants. Rents will be fixed at $750 per month, a rate affordable to a single person making the minimum hourly wage of $15, even as the family is able to increase its income. And, families can stay as long as there is a child under 18 in the household. This will allow families to build savings and eventually move into market-rate housing as they develop self-sufficiency for the long term.

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An environmentally sound infill property

MEHC believes that, to be environmentally friendly, housing, affordable or not, must avoid sensitive habitat, areas subject to wildfires, flooding and extreme earthquake risks, and areas designated for conservation, open space or agriculture. Oma Village satisfies all of these requirements. This is an example of the “gentle infill” that MEHC supports.

The apartments are solar-powered, have tankless water heaters and are insulated well above code requirements. Storm water runoff is naturally filtered before it leaves the site, and the landscaping features native, drought resistant plants. Oma Village replaces a dilapidated building with attractive, energy efficient, environmentally friendly affordable housing.

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Location, location, location

MEHC knows that affordable housing should be located near jobs, transit and other services. There is a region-serving bus stop a block from Oma Village and a SMART station will be within walking distance. Hamilton Marketplace offers grocery shopping three blocks away, and an elementary school and community center are within easy walking distance.


While commercially-zoned properties are generally viewed by local governments as sales tax opportunities, some are languishing because their particular locations are no longer competitive.

MEHC says that one of the keys to solving the housing crisis is identifying and rezoning such underutilized properties to medium or high density residential affordable housing, as happened with Oma Village. Novato realized that the area was losing its attractiveness to the commercial and office real estate market and recognized that rezoning to accommodate 20 units-per-acre multi-family residences would open an opportunity for affordable housing.


Oma Village is remarkable for so many reasons. It will support the very lowest income and the most burdened families. It has tremendous community support and is already 95% paid for. Homeward Bound has turned a blighted property into an attractive community asset.

We met with Homeward Bound’s Executive Director, Mary Kay Sweeney and her deputy, Paul Fordham, to prepare this article. We asked them to name a takeaway from their Oma Village experience. Their response was immediate: “We can do it again!” Let’s hope so. Marin's housing crisis needs many strategies for success, and Oma Village is a good one of the many good models in Marin County.

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Need Proof?

Rents are out of Sight

Our service community, the people we see every day, the people who make our lives work, by and large don't make enough money to live in our community. Consider our kids' teachers and classroom aides, our hairdressers, dog walkers, babysitters and gardeners, paramedics, restaurant workers, administrative assistants and receptionists.

What about a family of 4? An average 2-bedroom apartment in Marin will cost them $3184 a month. According to Federal guidelines, 30% of gross household income is considered "affordable" for housing costs; anything over that will burden a family in terms of paying for food, healthcare, transportation, school supplies and so on. This family would need to earn $10,613/month, dedicating $38,208 of their annual salary to RENT AN APARTMENT.

Let's say the mom is a nursing assistant and the dad is a paramedic; together they might earn about $97,000 a year. At the 30% threshold, that means they can afford to pay $2425 for rent. If they take that 2 BR apartment, they'll have to scrimp on other necessities, never mind being able to save any money for a down payment on a house of their own.

And by the way, if that paramedic and nursing assistant decide it's not worth the sacrifice to live in Marin, chances are in an emergency they won't be able to get to work here, when we need them the most.

Just another reason to "bother" about affordable housing.

Affordable housing, why bother?

Why Bother, Indeed.


Today, Marin is in a severe housing crisis. 

Fully 96% of our housing is market-rate; this means that households with only moderate income can afford to live in only 4% of our housing units, and only 3% of our homes and apartments are within the affordability reach of lower income folks. In the past 12 months, the median price of for-sale housing has increased 14%, and rents are increasing faster than incomes. There has been an exponential increase in evictions, making the homeless crisis the worst it’s ever been.

mehc trafficOne reason to be bothered is because the environmental impacts of the affordable  housing shortage are unsustainable. 

Marin County has some of the worst freeway congestion in the Bay Area. Mostly due to the cost of housing, 62% of the people who work in Marin commute from other counties. Most of the 68,000 people who drive into Marin drive alone, making our already exorbitant carbon footprint even more egregious. 

You should also be bothered by the economic effects of our housing imbalance. 

The majority of Marin’s workforce earns their money here, but spends it where they live, in other counties. A 2011 study by the Marin Economic Forum found that this outflow amounted to a $1.4 billion loss in potential revenue to local businesses. The same study found that if affordable housing were created for just 1% of Marin’s in-commuters, the new households would add over $14 million to Marin’s economy.

mehc childplayHiring service-workers like elementary school teachers and health aides is becoming a real “bother” for Marin employers. 

Economists generally agree that families who pay more than 30% of their income for housing are likely to have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. Based on this standard, a household of four would need to earn $8,187 per month or $98,240 per year to afford the average rental in Marin... IF they could find a place to rent at all. The starting salary for a schoolteacher in San Rafael is less than half of that amount -- $43,050.

mehc porchsittingThe lack of affordable housing can also be a big “bother” for our seniors because many of them are house-rich and cash-poor. 

They have trouble making ends meet, and are lacking affordable housing options in order to age in their own community.



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 But what bothers us the most is that none of this is coincidence, and it’s not all due to the blind hand of supply and demand.

Our housing market was and is shaped by local government decisions. Over the past 40 years, local government in Marin has restricted the growth of housing supply while increasing housing demand with policies that grew thousands of low-wage retail and service jobs.

Stick with Us!

Over the next year, we'll tell you more about why we all should “bother” with affordable housing and what we can do about it. Watch for our monthly newsletter MEHC Perspective in your inbox. Be sure to sign up on our email list to stay informed about important opportunities--and challenges--to affordable housing in Marin. Stay tuned!

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Homelessness is on the upswing...not in a good way.

Every other January, communities throughout the nation conduct "point-in-time" counts of their homeless populations. Marin’s January 2015 survey found 1,309 people living without a home. This was a big increase, as well as an unfortunate change in direction, from the previous two counts that found 1,220 homeless in 2011 and 924 people without a home in 2013.

What was different? Rents for one thing. Job growth accelerated rapidly after 2012, and rent increases followed suit, especially after 2014. County-wide average rents increased 13.4% in 2015 and have risen another 4.6% -- so far – in 2016.

Who was homeless in 2015? Most homeless folks – 71% -- were from Marin. 66% were men; 11% were under 18, and 28% were between 18 and 24 years old. 14% had been in foster care. Many had health problems, including 28% who suffered from drug or alcohol abuse and with 30% reporting psychiatric problems (many were in both categories). 49% had been without a home for less than a year.

of survey respondents said YES when asked if they would want safe, affordable permanent housing were it available. 

County Adopts Fair Housing Ordinance!

THANKS FOR YOUR RESPONSE TO OUR ACTION ALERT regarding the Fair Housing Ordinance!

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There is a subtle form of housing discrimination that goes on in Marin County: refusing to rent to a would-be tenant who holds a Section 8 voucher. On November 8 the Marin Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to bar this kind of discrimination in the unincorporated County.

Under the Section 8 program, the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development issues vouchers through local housing authorities that can be used in the private rental market to pay a portion of a family’s rent. One of the goals of the program is to avoid concentrating lower income households by giving them options to shop for housing wherever it is available.

But voucher holders don’t have the same freedom of choice as the rest of us if landlords can refuse to rent to them for no reason other than because a portion of their rent would be paid through a Section 8 voucher. A recent report to the Board of Supervisors found that between January 1, 2014 and August 31, 2016 over 1,000 Marin families could not use their Section 8 vouchers because they could not find housing from landlords who would accept their vouchers. Often this is because of low vacancy rates or rents that are too high to be covered by Section 8. However, as the report also noted, rental listings advertising “no Section 8” are common in Marin.

On October 25, the Board of Supervisors held a public hearing to consider an ordinance to make this kind of discrimination illegal in the unincorporated areas of Marin. The Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative was among the many community groups that spoke in favor of the proposal. On November 8, the Board unanimously adopted the Fair Housing Ordinance prohibiting denying rentals solely because of the applicant’s reliance upon a Section 8 voucher.

The County’s Fair Housing ordinance is a step in the right direction, but it’s a small step. The vast majority of rental housing is in San Rafael and Novato, but the County’s Fair Housing Ordinance will not apply in our incorporated cities and towns.


If you think your city or town should adopt a Fair Housing Ordinance to protect Section 8 renters, drop MEHC a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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