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What housing crisis? Last-minute bill would let wealthy Marin County limit home building

One of California’s wealthiest counties may continue to get a pass under the state’s affordable housing laws.

Lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow parts of Marin County to limit growth more tightly than other regions of California. The provision, inserted last week into a bill connected to the state budget, lets Marin County’s largest cities and unincorporated areas maintain extra restrictions on how many homes developers can build.

Housing advocates say the carve-out runs counter to the push by Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers for more development as a way to combat the state’s housing affordability problems.

Since the changes are tied to last week’s passage of the state budget, which Brown has yet to sign, the measure does not have to go through the regular committee process. It’s had just one public hearing and lawmakers could vote on the bill as early as Thursday.

The measure, Assembly Bill 121, is the latest salvo in a lengthy debate about low-income housing in the Northern California county, which has one of the state’s largest gaps between rich and poor.

Following a 2009 investigation by federal housing officials, Marin County supervisors agreed to boost affordable development as a way to desegregate the mostly white region. But neighborhood opposition to low-income housing continued, including a long-stalled 2013 proposal from “Star Wars” creator George Lucas to build hundreds of affordable units on a former dairy farm.

Today, the county’s per capita income of $60,236 is the highest of any county in the state, according to U.S. census figures. But the average renter in Marin County makes just $19.21 an hour and would need to work 77 hours a week to afford a studio apartment at the $1,915-a-month market rate, according to data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

“In a year where the Legislature has been talking endlessly about the housing crisis in this state and trying to make it easier to build affordable housing and higher-density housing, the one and only thing that comes out of the budget process is a deeply flawed measure that only adds barriers to development in one of the most exclusionary counties in the state,” said Anya Lawler, policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

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