Marin County house, rent prices continue to rise

Ethan Singleton, Hook Editor

Marin County youth who plan on living in Marin in the future will face a financial challenge.  Unfortunately, the cost of living in Marin may render this goal impossible for all but the very wealthy. The future of Marin may continue to be one of economic stratification.

Those who plan on remaining in Marin must also make plans for high salaries. In 2017, the Marin IJ reported that the median house price had risen to $1,127,500. Meanwhile, the Marin IJ reported that home prices increased 16.2 percent from 2016 to 2017, double the national rate., says the average cost of a one bedroom apartment in Marin is $2,470 a month, and $3,110 for a two bedroom. The cost of a two bedroom apartment is higher here than every major city in California except San Francisco, according to Apartment

In a list compiled by Time Magazine published April 8, 2016, four of the 10 cities in the United States with the highest rent prices are in California. According to a Board of Supervisors news report of Nov. 30, 2017, 36 percent of Marin residents are renters.

According to the to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a family of four making $105,350 a year can now be considered low income in Marin.

What these numbers mean is that living in Marin requires an exceptional level of wealth when compared to the rest of the country or even California. Fairfax Town Councilman John Reed believes this is a major problem.

“The ability for all members of the community to find housing is essential to having an integrated, multi-faceted community. When you don’t, those that must still come to the area do so by commuting long distances. Those who don’t have to endure this just leave, and the community is worse off as a result,”  Reed said.

This could lead Marin residents to wonder how the majority of the employees they regularly encounter in, for example, local retail businesses can manage to live here when earning that kind of salary. The answer is they don’t. According to the County Board of Supervisors, 70 percent of Marin’s employees live outside Marin.

It is easy to list the numbers and statistics, but it is more difficult to identify exactly what is at the root this disparity and harder still to identify tangible solutions.

“One obstacle is money; another obstacle is people do not always want development where there is none currently. The third major obstacle is the cost of development. It currently costs anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000 to develop a unit of housing, even in a multi-unit complex. The final obstacle is simply political will, which is associated with community push back,” Rice said.

The possible solutions to these problems are controversial and numerous. The first is simply building affordable housing, which involves inclusionary zoning, something that the California Supreme Court ruled legal in 2015. This means that when new housing units are constructed, a certain share of them are required to be accessible to people below certain    income levels.

“The state has never told their cities and towns how much housing they have to create, they have said: ‘you have to have zoning in place on vacant available land that would be usable for people who want to develop it. You have to make sure the map is there.’ ” Supervisor Rice said.

To create inclusionary zoning requires available land, which at first glance Marin County seems to have.  However, developing in these regions can conflict with other interests, such as conservation and wildlife. Alan Burr, Director of Housing and Community Lending for the Marin Community Foundation, explained the state of land use in Marin County.

“To start with, over 84 percent of the County’s land is either undevelopable federal park land or has been preserved as open space or for agricultural uses.  The remaining developable land is typically designated for specific use as either commercial or residential use, and almost all of the land available for residential use contains single family homes,” Burr said.

One victory for inclusionary development is the Victory

Village in Fairfax, a  54 unit affordable housing project underway in the west end of Fairfax, near White Hill Middle School. This comes after years of pushback from anti-development and anti-traffic hardliners.

Rent control, is the blunter, more direct solution. It entails setting rent ceilings which limit what landlords can charge. It is also one of the most controversial topics in all of economics.

“There are currently no rent control laws in Marin that I could find. But if we did, we’d see all the textbook problems with rent control: the apartments would become unlivable and housing development would become impossible. Everything is already so expensive in Marin County that these problems would be especially prevalent,” AP Economics teacher Laurie Hailer explained.

At its current rate of growth, the cost of housing in Marin County shows no sign of easing up.