By Ron Albert

Marin Independent Journal, November 27, 2011
Guest Op-ed Column

THE MARIN Environmental Housing Collaborative is a countywide partnership that includes affordable housing, environmental, neighborhood, and social justice advocates.

The Environmental Housing Collaborative works collaboratively to promote public support for projects that advance affordable housing, environmental integrity and social justice.

During the past year, the Environmental Housing Collaborative has collaborated with North San Rafael residents in the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train station area planning process, co-sponsored a community forum on the housing element process and endorsed a fact-based, respectful housing dialogue in Novato.

The Environmental Housing Collaborative recognizes the vital importance of affordable housing to our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Marin needs more housing options for people with a range of incomes, including some of those who now commute long distances each day to work in our stores, restaurants, hospitals, schools and offices.

Land-use policies are key to environmental protection.

Affordable housing is also an asset to our communities.

The ability to walk to services and amenities brings vitality to neighborhoods. Businesses benefit from being able to hire local employees, who in turn spend locally, generating tax revenues to sustain public services.

The state-mandated housing element process is far from perfect. State legislative changes are necessary to allow for more flexibility to fulfill Regional Housing Needs Allocations for Marin cities and towns.

Some Marin cities and towns may bow to local political pressures and attempt to resist state requirements, and some may choose to invest time and money to encourage amendments to housing element law.

However, communities should not put more affordable housing options on hold while they pursue such efforts with the state Department of Housing and Community Development and the California Legislature.

The unmet need for deed-restricted, truly affordable housing is obvious.

We see this need in teacher turnover rates in the Novato Unified School District; in our seniors who cannot afford to stay in their home communities; and in the number of formerly homeless individuals in transitional housing who cannot find affordable permanent housing.

We delay compliance with housing element law at our own peril because by not complying we turn our backs on our responsibility to begin to reverse global warming trends and to support our local economy.

At the same time, the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative is mindful of the environmental issues of specific sites, and supports sites that are outside of wetlands, wetland buffers and stream conservation areas, and are located near transit, jobs and retail.

The Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative supports efforts in each of our 12 jurisdictions to find sites feasible for small multi-unit, environmentally friendly residential developments and to rezone those sites, if necessary, to accommodate those developments.

Former Sausalito Mayor Ron Albert is chair of the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative.