By Omar Carrera| Marin IJ Housing Op-Ed
When I started at Canal Alliance nearly 20 years ago, the organization was primarily focused on providing social services to the historically disadvantaged community in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. We helped Canal residents with issues such as accessing health care, education, job training and immigration legal services.
Over the years, we have served and continue to serve Marin’s diverse and hardworking Latino community, many of whom emigrated here from remote regions of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico.
Marin’s Latino community has always been integral to the success of our region and local economy, providing key workers in many sectors including health care, home care, restaurant and service industries, construction, transit and more.
While Canal Alliance’s commitment to providing social services remains, our approach to breaking the generational cycle of poverty has evolved. We have begun to focus more of our efforts toward remedying historic inequities and systematic barriers that impede and prevent Marin’s Latino community from achieving economic prosperity.
Perhaps the most pressing barrier for the community is access to safe and affordable housing.
The Canal neighborhood has long struggled with poor housing conditions, rising rents and the constant threat of eviction. When community members are forced to leave the Canal neighborhood, they often have no choice but to leave Marin entirely, as everywhere else in the county is often more expensive. Homeownership, which many of our residents dream of, is often well out of reach.
Many years ago, our organization acquired 12 housing units in the Canal neighborhood, which we offer to residents at reduced rent. While this strategy provides a clear benefit to the tenants residing at these units, providing access to safe and affordable housing has not previously been central to our mission.
Why not? Because housing is hard, expensive and complicated. Furthermore, Canal Alliance has not historically had the resources or knowledge to build, buy, preserve or protect homes for our community.
Over the past two years, Canal Alliance has increased its focus on housing. We recognize that addressing the housing challenge is key to effecting systemic change for the Latino community that lives here. As witnesses to the constant threat of mass evictions, as is happening at the 400 Canal St. apartment building, we know that we must act more boldly if we want to achieve housing justice in the Canal for residents.
As we embark on this new facet of our work, we are determined to bring forth change in partnership with our community and other organizations committed to addressing housing inequity.
We have already joined hands with a powerful group of partners – Legal Aid of Marin, Community Action Marin and North Marin Community Services – to advocate for housing justice and housing rights in Marin County. We have also begun collaborating with the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative, another local organization fighting to better protect, preserve and produce housing.
Along the way, we have learned that Marin itself is too small for its individual jurisdictions to remedy our housing crisis in silos. Even Marin’s largest jurisdictions — San Rafael, Novato and the county – will require more staff and financial capacity to build the kinds of programs and policies that will create lasting change. As a county of only 265,000 people divided into 12 jurisdictions, it is clear that collaboration will be central to real solutions.
Marin’s significant housing challenges will require a multifaceted approach to solve for the well-documented issues in the Canal, for struggling renters in the county, including those who grew up here and can’t afford to stay or to buy, and those living on our streets and in our parks.
In addition to building capacity in local government, significant investment in education for tenants, landlords and homeowners will be necessary to begin shifting public sentiment away from the “not in my backyard” attitude often impeding Marin’s progress. Our success will depend on Marin’s ability to centralize its voice and act in solidarity to build the capacity and momentum necessary for our jurisdictions and housing organizations to effect change.
Alongside our community and housing-focused partners, Canal Alliance is steadfast in its commitment to furthering housing protections, preservation and production for the Canal neighborhood and beyond. With your help, we can build momentum across sectors and throughout local jurisdictions, bringing impactful and sustainable housing solutions to our workforce and most vulnerable community members.
Together, we can solve Marin’s housing challenges. And togetherness starts today.
Read the article on the IJ here.
Omar Carrera is CEO of Canal Alliance.