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Marin allocates $1M toward land trust for housing

October 26, 2023

By Richard Halstead| Marin IJ

Marin County officials are seeking a $3 million federal grant that might allow them to create a Marin City land trust and to purchase property that the trust would control.

Planners recommended this week that county supervisors contribute $1 million in matching funds to increase the chances of securing the grant. The money was generated from the excess funds of mortgage revenue bonds issued by the Marin County Redevelopment Agency.

The Board of Supervisors approved a resolution on Tuesday allocating the $1 million.

“This grant would support the creation of a countywide land trust, either through building on existing land trusts and expanding on their capacity to act countywide, or to create an organization to work countywide and support other organizations,” LeeLee Thomas, deputy director of the Marin County Community Development Agency, told supervisors.

Regarding the need for the $1 million in county matching funds, Thomas said, “These funds would be used to support acquisition of property by a countywide land trust with a priority for serving Marin City.”

Following the meeting, Thomas said the property the land trust would purchase wouldn’t necessarily be in Marin City, but the trust would serve Marin City residents nonetheless.

“It could be used to promote home ownership for those folks,” she said.

Community land trusts are typically nonprofit corporations that acquire land with the objective of creating affordable housing.

A land trust might buy the land a house occupies then grant a low-income homebuyer a 99-year ground lease so the buyer only has to pay for the house. The agreement would require ownership of the house and land to return to the land trust while allowing the homebuyer a modest profit.

A Marin City community land trust was proposed initially by the Golden Gate Village Resident Council during discussions regarding how to finance the rehabilitation of Golden Gate Village, a dilapidated federal housing complex in Marin City.

The council proposed that a Marin City community land trust be created and the complex and the land it occupies be turned over to the trust. The idea was rejected by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which oversees Golden Gate Village.

The federal grant that the county is applying for is making available $85 million nationwide to “identify and remove barriers to affordable housing production and preservation.”

Thomas said the grant program is a continuation of the federal “affirmatively furthering fair housing” policy introduced by the Obama administration. According to information provided by HUD, one of the goals of the program is to remove “barriers that inhibit access to well-resourced areas of opportunity for protected class groups.”

“The land trust governing structure could include populations who have previously not participated in decision making, who have historically been denied housing opportunities and resources, and who represent Indigenous and people of color as well as other members of the protected classes,” Thomas said.

In a letter to the board, Sharon Rushton, president of Sustainable TamAlmonte, urged the supervisors not to apply for the grant.

“If Marin County were to pursue the HUD grant, then Marin County would be once more catering to the state’s agenda to take away local control of land use and constraints to development, which has been heavily backed by Big Tech, Big Real Estate, Construction Labor Unions and Big Wall Street Real Estate Investors — instead of pursuing an agenda that is best suited for Marin,” Rushton said.

Rushton said applicants improve their chances of getting a grant by adopting such policies as removing or reducing parking requirements for certain projects, establishing ministerial approval for a variety of housing types, eliminating California Environmental Quality Act review and allowing impact fee waivers for developers.

Noting Rushton’s letter and letters from two other Marin residents supporting Rushton’s position, Supervisor Mary Sackett asked, “Is this item adding any zoning or changing what we have in our housing element currently?”

Thomas said, “There’s no changes that we are recommending as part of this grant. It’s really implementing our existing housing element programs with the focus, as we talked about, on affirmatively furthering fair housing.”

Rebekah Helzel, vice chairwoman of the Mt. Tam Community Land Trust, said her organization’s board, which consists of both Marin City and Mill Valley residents, is eager to work with the county if it receives the grant.

“We’re going to continue to try to identify land in Marin City that can be controlled by the residents,” Helzel said.

Aaron Burnett, the director of policy and civic engagement at Canal Alliance, also voiced support for the grant application.

“The creation of community land trusts and shared equity home ownership programs are a huge step in ensuring that we begin to address housing inequity in this country,” Burnett said.

Clayton Smith, however, objected to the grant’s use of the term “protected classes.”

“Who decides who belongs to which one of these classes?” Smith asked. “There’s a danger here in moving from our paradigm of equality before the law in this recent descent to the idea of equity, which has its origins in neo-Marxist ideation and political philosophy.”

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