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Levine’s bill rapped as special affordable housing break for affluent Marin

Affordable housing developers are criticizing a bill by Assemblyman Marc Levine they say would extend until 2028 special treatment for Marin County, San Rafael and Novato when it comes to meeting state requirements for zoning for affordable housing.

In 2014, Levine was successful in getting AB 1537 adopted into law, which for purposes of state housing law changed the designation of Marin County, San Rafael and Novato from metropolitan to suburban until 2023.

The change was important because one way for jurisdictions to demonstrate they are meeting a state requirement for zoning for low- and very-low-income housing is to use what is known as the state’s “default” density number.

“We are in the midst of a housing catastrophe in this state and Marin County is the epicenter,” said Anya Lawler, policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “It is the most unaffordable county in the state. It has a deep shortage of housing affordable to anyone but the wealthiest residents.

“Let’s not give an exception to one jurisdiction that thinks it is special or different,” Lawler said. “Every jurisdiction thinks it is special or different. The reality is Marin County and the vast majority of jurisdictions within Marin County have a pretty atrocious track record on fulfilling their obligation under the law to remove barriers and support the development of housing at all income levels.”

The Western Center on Law & Poverty opposed AB 1537. Lawler said low-income housing projects need density to make them economically viable and parcels zoned for only 20 units per acre just aren’t dense enough for development.

“What they were effectively asking was to lock up sites at a density that could not support affordable housing development and be allowed to claim that they were adequate to support affordable housing development,” Lawler said. “That becomes an exclusionary policy.”

Opponents are also upset because Levine’s new bill has been tied to passage of the state budget; as a result it has not had to go through the normal committee process and has received just one public hearing.

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