Marin remains among most expensive counties to rent

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Marin County homes
Marin remains among most expensive counties to rent


Marin County, Calif., shares the top spot for most expensive places in the nation to rent a home, according to a new study.

Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties again tied for No. 1 in the annual National Low Income Housing Coalition’s “Out of Reach” study. The report notes tenants in the three counties must make $60.96 an hour to afford to rent a modest, two-bedroom home estimated to cost $3,170 a month.

The top seven most expensive counties on the list are in the greater Bay Area, and nine of the top 10 are in California.

“Our clients are faced with no options but to move out of the county if their rents go up too high,” said Stephanie Haffner, executive director of the San Rafael-based Legal Aid of Marin, which provides legal services to low-income and undeserved residents. “Seniors, immigrants, workers, all are increasingly vulnerable to having no place to call home in Marin.”

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The numbers show affordability in the region hasn’t improved in the last year. There’s still a significant gap between the Bay Area’s rent prices and its minimum wage.

“It’s worse,” said Amie Fishman, executive director of the Non-Profit Housing Association of California, which partnered with the National Low Income Housing Coalition to promote the report. “What we’re seeing is that it’s just continually getting worse.”

Affordability

The report based its findings on the “fair market rent” for each jurisdiction — a number calculated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to estimate what a family moving into a new place today can expect to pay for a modest rental home and utilities. Using those estimates, the researchers determined how much a worker would need to earn to afford a home without spending more than 30 percent of salary on housing.

For Marin, the study found an annual income of $126,800 is needed. That’s about $61 an hour, significantly more than the state and local minimum wage. That compares to $72,165 a year in California and $47,756 nationwide.

The average renter in Marin makes about $20 per hour, the study shows. At that wage, three full-time jobs would be needed to afford rent alone. For perspective, the wage needed to afford to rent a two-bedroom home in Marin back in 2014 was $37.62, according to the 2014 “Out of Reach” study.

And the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better, as the number of low-wage jobs is expected to grow significantly in the next 10 years, according to the “Out of Reach” report. Seven of the 10 occupations with the largest projected growth between 2016 and 2026 — including waiters and waitresses, janitors and medical assistants — pay less than the hourly wage needed to afford both a one and two-bedroom home.

“The fundamental problem, as ‘Out of Reach’ makes clear, is the mismatch between what people earn or otherwise have available to spend on their homes, and what housing costs,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Housing shortage

A shortage of cheap housing is another factor. The country is short 7 million homes for extremely low-income renters, meaning there are just 37 affordable homes for every 100 households in that income bracket.

Part of the problem is that construction of affordable housing hasn’t kept pace with demand. San Rafael, for example, has built 37 units of affordable housing between 2015 and 2018, which makes up about 26 percent of 141 housing built in the same time period, according to city Community Development Director Paul Jensen. While the city is reviewing an additional 350 housing units as well as approving accessory dwelling units, Jensen said more must be done in San Rafael and beyond.

“I agree that the construction of affordable housing has not kept pace with demand,” Jensen said.

City staff are set to update the City Council later this year on the challenges and constraints that hinder housing development, Jensen added.

Countywide, there are more than 4,600 affordable rental units of various types, according to Marin County planner Molly Kron. There were about 37,550 rental units in Marin between 2013 and 2017, according to the “Out of Reach” study.

Meanwhile, the county has adopted programs that seek to promote further development and preservation of affordable housing through acquisition of multi-family rental properties, landlord incentives and grant funding for developers, according to county senior planner Debbi La Rue.

Federal aid

Federal housing assistance also is lagging behind demand, due to a lack of funding, according to the report. Three out of every four households eligible for aid does not receive help — compared to two out of every three households in the late 1980s.

Lewis Jordan, executive director of the Marin Housing Authority, which manages local public housing and the Section 8 voucher program, said the authority agrees with the report’s findings, especially its calls for the federal government to fully fund improvements to public housing and the Section 8 rental subsidy program to support vulnerable tenants.

“What ends up happening is that HUD submits a budget on behalf of the housing authorities to Congress and it’s a rarity if ever we get anywhere near 100% of what we ask for,” Jordan said.

This year, HUD amended its fair market rent values for Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties for 2019 after the housing authority argued the original rent values were too low. The change was made after a housing authority-contracted study showed the rents were actually higher.

Even after the change, HUD did not provide extra funding for the Section 8 program, Jordan said. As a result, Marin’s Section 8 program is about $350,000 underfunded this year. Jordan said HUD has agreed to pay the shortfall in the future, but the housing authority cannot issue any more housing vouchers for this year as a condition.

Congress is considering a bill this year that would provide more than $13 billion over five years to combat homelessness and increase affordable housing production. The Ending Homelessness Act of 2019, which would fund housing vouchers, new construction and case management services for homeless people, passed in the House Financial Services Committee in March.

Renter protection

Marin County and several local cities have also taken steps to keep current and future renters from being displaced.

Some like mandatory mediation require landlords to meet with tenants to discuss rent increases above a certain threshold. But as rents continue to rise, some Marin residents are calling for regulations with more teeth, such as rent control.

San Rafael, Fairfax and Marin County recently adopted “just cause” ordinances requiring landlords of properties with three or more units to give tenants a reason for their eviction. Several local governments have also adopted “source of income” ordinances to prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants who use housing vouchers from third parties, such as Section 8 vouchers.

All are not in favor of these mandates. Jack Wilkinson, a San Rafael-based real estate agent and landlord, said the housing issue comes down to a number of factors, including lack of housing stock and people with higher salaries taking what supply there is. However, he argues that “onerous” demands by the government to subsidize tenants through eviction regulation and rent mediation also restrict the market and impede further development.

“The government, at the demand of the tenant, steps in and tells the property owner how they, the property owner can, utilize their asset,” Wilkinson said. “A third, non-invested partner, the government, interferes with commerce.”

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