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San Rafael tags $1.4M for affordable housing

April 11, 2023

By: Adrian Rodriguez

Workers walk by the BioMarin and Vivalon construction site at 999 Third St. in San Rafael on Thursday, April 6, 2023. The project will include senior housing. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

San Rafael has opened up competitive bidding for $1.4 million to support the creation of more affordable homes.

The notice of funding availability issued on Thursday calls on developers to apply with plans for below-market-rate housing for seniors, families, formerly homeless people and people with special needs. The money comes from the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

The notice is the third time the city has made funding available to developers through the program. The City Council received a report on the effort at its meeting on April 3.

“It’s always nice to have funding available to promote the affordable housing we would like in our community,” Mayor Kate Colin said.

“I just hope that we can get some developers to take advantage and really build it,” Vice Mayor Maika Llorens Gulati said.

The city’s affordable housing trust fund has a $2.04 million balance, said Alexis Captanian, a city housing analyst.

The fund was created to encourage developers to invest in affordable homes as a way to bolster the housing supply while meeting state quotas. For the 2015-2023 planning cycle, the city permitted 69 very-low-income homes, falling short of its assignment for this range by 171 residences, according to a city staff report. For the same time period, the city created 138 out of an assigned 148 homes for low-income households.

For the next eight-year cycle, San Rafael is required to permit 857 new homes for very-low-income households and 492 for low-income households. The city’s 2023-2031 housing plan, called a housing element, is expected to be finalized next month.

Under the affordable housing fund program, developers pay into the fund to bypass San Rafael’s inclusionary housing requirement, which mandates that 10% of homes in large developments be sold or rented at below-market rates. City officials in some cases agree to lower the requirement in exchange for payments into the trust fund.

Captanian said eligible projects to receive grants or loans include new construction; the acquisition and rehabilitation of projects; and the conversion of market-rate housing or adaptive reuse of nonresidential buildings, such as office buildings, for affordable housing.

Developers are eligible to apply as long as they can demonstrate their team is capable of completing a successful project, Captanian said.

“These dollars are so precious because they’re flexible,” Colin said.

Colin said that often government funding is dictated, but the affordable housing trust fund dollars can be used for grant matches, seed money or the last dollars to get a project over the finish line.

“I think we all agree that it actually enables the flexibility and expands the possibilities here in San Rafael,” she said.

Councilmember Eli Hill said that in previous funding rounds, the city has successfully funded projects that are creating the type of housing the city needs.

In the first round in 2020, Homeward Bound of Marin received a $750,000 grant through the program toward Jonathan’s Place, formerly called the Mill Street project. The nonprofit now operates 32 supportive housing apartments for the formerly homeless at the site and offers a 40-bed shelter. The nonprofit also netted a $350,000 grant in the second round last spring.

“This doesn’t seem like that long ago, but now Mill Street is open,” Hill said.

“All affordable housing funding issued by the city of San Rafael is a great use of resources, in my opinion,” said Paul Fordham, co-chief executive officer of Homeward Bound of Marin, “particularly if it can be leveraged to access additional county, state or federal funding for much-needed, and extremely expensive to build, affordable housing in Marin.”

Other organizations that have benefited from previous rounds of funding include Eden Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing developer and property manager, and Canal Alliance, a nonprofit serving Marin’s immigrant community.

In 2022, Canal Alliance was awarded $400,000 for the acquisition of an apartment building to preserve as affordable housing in the Canal neighborhood.

In the past two rounds, Eden Housing was awarded a combined $1.8 million for its 67-affordable-apartment project at 999 Third St. that is part of Vivalon’s senior services campus. That project is expected to open later this year.

Eden Housing also received $850,000 last year for a plan to convert the office building at 3301 Kerner Blvd. into supportive housing for formerly homeless residents. The site had been used as a shelter.

“These are all tangible, tactile affordable housing units in our community,” Hill said. “So, I’m looking forward to what’s next.”

Applications are due May 15. After city review, officials will make recommendations for awards, which are expected to be presented to the City Council for approval in June.

More information is at bit.ly/3KwYh1h.

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