Marin Independent Journal
August 28, 2023
Richard Halstead

Marin County supervisors have allocated another $1 million to an effort to bring affordable workforce housing to land near San Quentin State Prison.

The new allocation, which will come from the county’s affordable housing trust fund, will help cover the $118 million in development costs for a 135-residence project.

“These funds will be used as a local match to leverage state funding,” Jillian Zeiger, a county planner, told supervisors at a meeting on Aug. 22.

Known as the Oak Hill Apartments, one of the projects calls for 135 apartments that will be reserved for Marin County employees and the employees of local school districts. They will be available to people classified by the state as being low income, or earning between 60% and 120% of area median income. That means a two-person household could earn between $89,520 and $149,200 per year.

The other project, which would be adjacent, would feature 115 apartments that will be priced to be affordable to households that earn between 30% and 60% of the area median income. For a two-person household, that translates to between $44,760 per year and $89,520 per year.

Bruce Dorfman, chief executive officer of Education Housing Partners, the developer of the 135-apartment project, said, “Due to an increase in interest rates, which have nearly doubled since we initiated the project in 2020, it is necessary to identify and secure funding from a variety of sources.”

“Unlike an affordable housing project, there is no proven pathway for capitalizing workforce housing,” Dorfman said, “and there is limited funding available for this type of housing.”

The 5 acres of land for the homes — a former gun range just north of San Quentin — cost nothing because of a 2019 executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It made state-owned surplus properties available for affordable housing.

The state’s Department of Housing and Community Development has set aside $60 million in 2023 for grants to projects moving forward on surplus sites. Zeiger said that to be competitive for the grant program, developers must have a commitment of local funds, and the more local funds the higher their application scores.

“We’re teed up to receive potentially $10 million if we can get matching grants to make our application more competitive,” Dorfman said. “We need the availability of these funds to help move this development forward.”

So far supervisors have allocated more than $6.75 million from the county’s affording housing trust fund to the two projects in the hopes of attracting additional state dollars. The county has also allocated more than $2.5 million in federal housing grant money to the projects.

Zeiger said Education Housing Partners is still waiting to hear from the state regarding an earlier application it submitted for another state grant using a previous $1 million match from the county.

Noting that the county’s investment of $2 million in housing trust dollars in the 135-apartment project works out to about $15,000 per apartment, Supervisor Katie Rice said that was “quite a deal.”

The more affordable 115-apartment project, which is being developed by Eden Housing, failed to win a state grant last year, despite a $1 million match from the county.

“They weren’t successful because their environmental review was not complete, so they didn’t meet the readiness factor,” said LeeLee Thomas, deputy director of the Marin County Community Development Agency.

Eden is using that same $1 million match from the county to apply for the state grant program that Education Housing Partners is applying for now.

Dorfman said the state certified the final environmental impact report (EIR) for the Oak Hill Apartment projects in July. Because the apartments will be built on state-owned land, all of the entitlements and permitting for the projects, including analysis required under the California Environmental Quality Act, was overseen exclusively by the state’s Department of General Services.

The Marin County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors were not required to approve the EIR. Because the state is issuing permits for the projects, the county is essentially waiving an estimated $1.24 million in fees.

The 135-apartment complex will be owned by a joint powers authority that was formed between the county and the Marin County Office of Education.

“Oak Hill is an innovative approach to affordable housing that will provide Marin school districts with a desperately-needed tool to recruit and retain teachers and staff in a county that has one of the highest housing costs in the state,” said John Carroll, the county superintendent of schools.

But resident Clayton Smith, who frequently comments during supervisor meetings, questioned the effort.

“Given all the conversations we’ve had over the last several decades about non-discrimination in housing, how is it that the government can now discriminate in favor of its own employees for housing constructed at general taxpayer expense?” he said.

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