Marin Voice: Affordable Housing is Basic Human Right, Economic Imperative

Written in an article by Chandra Alexandre, CEO of Community Action Marin and Joanne Webster, president and CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council, “Access to housing is one of the greatest issues facing Marin County. It impacts employers and employees alike. We need more – not less – housing stock. A commitment to build affordable housing is both a demonstration of our shared values and an economic imperative critical to Marin’s future.

Between April 2023 and April 2024, Marin added 1,700 jobs to the local economy. But when it comes to new construction in the county, only 1,700 new units were built in the past decade. This reality has created a severe housing shortage that impacts us all and undermines our county’s long-term economic vitality.

The inability to house our workforce in Marin translates to a loss of talent and reduces productivity. It limits innovation and profit, as well as decreasing the quality of life across our communities.

In the realm of our local economy, we’re facing a predictable talent shortage that is being driven by the housing crisis. Employers across sectors that include health care, education, essential services and more report significant barriers to recruitment and retention. Many employers have had to offer increasingly higher wages and other perks to attract and retain talent which cuts into their bottom line.

These costs are passed on to consumers, showing up in increased wait times and limited access as well as driving up what we pay for goods and services. An estimated 45,000 people in the Marin workforce commute to work – and this number is growing. In the past 10 years, commuters coming into Marin from other counties increased by nearly 8,000 people.

Meanwhile, the number of workers who both live and were employed in Marin dropped by about 10,000 people. Long commutes and housing instability lead to increased stress, poorer health outcomes and reduced opportunities for social mobility. This doesn’t include the impact that super commuting has on traffic congestion and the environment, both key issues of concern to many in Marin.

A 2023 needs-assessment report conducted by Community Action Marin shows the affordable housing crisis is disproportionately impacting people of color, with 58% of Latino and 56% of Black renters spending more than 30% of their income on housing. The racial inequity in Marin is embarrassingly visible, with affordable housing concentrated in certain crowded and segregated neighborhoods in Novato, Marin City and San Rafael.

Many families in these neighborhoods are doubling and tripling up in housing units just to be able to afford rent. Recent census data shows that the incidence of overcrowding in rental units is a shocking 7% in Marin. And that’s just what’s officially reported. It’s likely much higher.

Marin County Superintendent of Schools John A. Carroll sees firsthand that children in overcrowded housing situations are more likely to struggle academically and face health, emotional, and behavioral challenges. He has addressed the fallout that is hurting our community and our children.

“Affordable housing is not just a cornerstone of our community’s well-being; it’s essential for attracting and retaining the talented educators who shape our children’s futures,” Carroll said. “Without stable, affordable homes, we cannot expect to maintain the high standards of education our students deserve. Investing in affordable housing is investing in the strength and sustainability of our schools.”

The cost of inaction is clear: We are failing our children, our neighbors, our workers and our employers. We’re creating insurmountable barriers that will further hamper the future strength of our county and well-being of future generations.

Ensuring everyone has access to safe, affordable housing reflects our values and it makes good business sense. Marin County has long been a place of opportunity and innovation.

We can continue to lead by addressing our affordable housing crisis. Our actions today can pave the way for a strong and bright future for Marin and demonstrate that economic prosperity and social justice go hand in hand.”