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New Marin partnership aims to break barriers to homeownership

June 11, 2024

By ADRIAN RODRIGUEZ | arodriguez@marinij.com | Marin Independent Journal

Read the MIJ here

Andrea Rounds of Novato said becoming a first-time homeowner in 2017 changed her life.

“It’s like a fairy tale to have the security and stability of a home,” said Rounds, a mother of three who works as a night nurse. “I have equity; I’m able to save; I sent my daughters to college; my expenses are more predictable. There are just so many benefits.”

Rounds was among 10 low-income families who were able to purchase a new home through an affordable homeownership development project in Novato by Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco.

Now Habitat for Humanity has partnered with the San Rafael nonprofit Canal Alliance to create more affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income Latino families in Marin County.

Together, nonprofit staffers are working to secure funding and looking for real estate in the Canal neighborhood and surrounding areas for their next project, said Maureen Sedonaen, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco.

“We’re trying to level the playing field by making this availability of affordable homes an accessible dream and goal for low-income families in the county of Marin,” Sedonaen said. “We really believe that coming together in a formal way sends a strong message that we’re ready to build these homes.”

The organization works with families earning 50% to 120% of the area median income. Families are selected from a pool of qualified applicants. Those selected put 0% down and pay 0% mortgage and instead put in 500 hours of “sweat equity” where they contribute time to actually build the homes. Monthly housing payments are capped at 30% of income.

Sedonaen said the partnership comes at a critical time as the San Rafael area continues to grapple with housing disparities and affordable housing challenges.

Omar Carrera, chief executive officer of Canal Alliance, said housing security is the No. 1 issue that clients struggle with.

“We have participated in rental assistance programs and preservation of existing buildings to convert into affordable housing,” Carrera said. Canal Alliance owns 12 affordable rental apartments in the neighborhood, he said.

Recently, the Canal neighborhood specifically has been plagued with rent increases and evictions, and working-class families are being priced out of the city and the county.

“Now we need to think about production,” Carrera said. “The housing crisis has gotten to the level to where it is affecting every single business in every industry and we are forced to do more. People are being displaced on a daily basis and we need to do something about that.”

This year, the median home price in Marin County has exceeded $1.64 million, more than double the median home price in the rest of the state, according to a report by the California Association of Realtors.

Marin County ranks as the third most racially disparate county in the state, according to Race Counts, a project by Catalyst California, an organization advancing racial justice. Latino families represent only 5% of homeowners in the county, the report says. In San Rafael, where the majority of Latino families in Marin County live, housing expenses exceed the national average by 145%.

Under a state mandate, San Rafael must facilitate the creation of 3,220 new homes by 2031. The Regional Housing Needs Allocation requires that the city plans for 857 new homes for very-low-income households and 492 for low-income households, as well as 521 homes for moderate-income households.

“Especially with these mandates, we are open to ideas across the community to see how can we find a way to bring more affordable housing for the hard-working folks in Marin,” Sedonaen said.

Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco has 92 homes in the pipeline in Marin County, including an 80-home development at a 13.6-acre site in Novato.

With the new partnership with Canal Alliance, nonprofit leaders hope to try to double that production, but they haven’t set any specific targets, Sedonaen said.

Carrera said the mission of Habitat for Humanity is fully aligned with the Canal Alliance.

“We have a shared interest and shared vision of empowering the Latino community to have a chance to own in Marin,” Carrera said.

Zoila Rios, a renter in the Canal area, lives in an apartment with her husband, their five children and her mother. The Rios family was among the tenants who sought assistance from Canal Alliance when their rent was raised.

Rios said she supports the new partnership.

“It is a great opportunity for all the tenants of the Canal neighborhood in general,” she said. “And I would be interested.”

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