By Lucie Hollingsworth and Aaron Burnett | Marin IJ
As housing costs in Marin County continue to soar, so does our need for anti-displacement measures. Our lower-income residents are at risk now.
As we continue to lose lower-income residents right now, anti-displacement provisions somehow remain controversial. Anti-displacement policy has evolved dramatically in the last 40 years, upending old tropes that any rent stabilization or tenant protection reduces the quality or quantity of affordable housing.
Marin can and should do more to protect its renters.
When forced out of their homes – most often through no fault of their own – long-term tenants face a drastically changed rental market, with rents two to three times higher than what they had previously paid and very little inventory.
Many displaced renters are forced to either leave Marin or move into their cars or homeless encampments. Long-term tenants are disproportionately represented by people of color and other protected classes. Their departure furthers the segregation we see in Marin.
It’s no surprise that Marin is one of the few counties with increased segregation levels since 2010.
This is both a humanitarian issue and a climate issue. The life of every displaced person is disrupted in profound ways. It impacts schooling, employment options, transportation and health. Every displaced worker forced to commute adds to our traffic and emissions challenges.
Redlining, community opposition and exclusionary zoning have been elements of Marin’s housing “policies” for decades and have resulted in Marin having among the highest levels of racial disparities in the state.
Our exclusionary policies have also led Marin to have the lowest rate of housing production in the Bay Area. It will be years before we can build our way out of our housing shortage, even with the best of efforts. In the meantime, displacement is escalating as low-income tenants suffer under ever-increasing housing costs.
Housing element law requires both the production and preservation of affordable housing. Previous housing elements contained admirable strategies to ensure preservation; however, few have been implemented. Few Marin jurisdictions met their goals for the production of low-income housing.
The state housing element’s sixth cycle targets are much higher, yet still insufficient to meet our need for affordable housing. As a result, areas of San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood and Novato that have high concentrations of low-income renters have seen the highest increases in rent (over 40%) since 2011.
The Tenant Protection Act of 2019 (AB 1482) gives long-term tenants some just-cause protections from arbitrary evictions. However, it does not go far enough. Many types of housing are excluded and there are loopholes.
AB 1482 caps rent increases at 5% plus the consumer price index, not to exceed 10%. It is hard to justify landlords’ ability under AB 1482 to increase rents 5% above the increase in the cost of living.
These protections are unsustainable for low-income tenants. For example, a family renting a two-bedroom apartment for $3,200 in 2022 faces an almost 50% increase in housing costs in 5 years, or an additional cost of more than $1,500 per month.
San Francisco’s real estate news outlet, The Real Deal, recently noted that Marin’s lack of tenant protections and rent stabilization is attracting corporate investors, citing three large Marin residential complexes that have been bought since May of 2022, totaling 265 units. Substantial rent increases, along with extremely low vacancy rates, make Marin more attractive to investors than other Bay Area counties with strong tenant protections.
Fairfax has taken the first step in increasing tenant protections, and Larkspur has taken action by directing staff to begin drafting proposed ordinances.
These actions are under threat as real estate groups pour money into reversing the actions. We encourage all of Marin to push forward with tenant protection policies. We need to stop displacement and the loss of affordable housing now.
The county’s past exclusionary policies have made our county famous for all the wrong reasons. We can fix this.
Marin will continue to lose valuable community members unless we act. Planning for our housing future must also include ensuring that our current affordable housing stock is preserved.
We can still take powerful steps to protect the most vulnerable Marinites. Not because the state requires it, but because our values as Marinites demand it.
Lucie Hollingsworth is senior policy attorney at Legal Aid of Marin. Aaron Burnett is director of policy and civic engagement at Canal Alliance. Both are affiliated with the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative.
Read the article on the Marin IJ.