Affordable Housing Ordinance Takes Effect

By Lola Leuterio

The Mill Valley City Council held a final meeting confirming Mill Valley’s new affordable housing impact fee, an attempt to address the long standing economic homogeneity of our statistically liberal community, on Monday September 5.

The crafting of the new ordinance tot. The concluding draft mandates that 1.5 percent of the construction cost of all new houses built in Mill Valley go towards affordable housing – meaning every time a new house is built, a portion of the money from the builders will be put towards affordable housing projects.

“It’s been in discussion with city council for about ten years actually,” Senior Planner and Ordinance Organizer for the City of Mill Valley Danielle Staude said. “One of the reasons it has taken that long is [we had to] discuss fees and make sure they were fair, and transparent, and made sense to do as a community.”

An anonymous junior at Tam, and Mill Valley resident of 14 years who has recently moved to the East Bay, likes the new city initiative. “What [caused us to move] was the house we had been renting for 12 years was being put on the market. We only had two months’ notice to leave our home. It is pretty hard to find any place in two months, let alone an affordable house in Mill Valley.”

There has also been resistance to the new plan. “We had some concerns about the fee. Some of the concerns included that [the fee] was a tax, which it is not. It is a fee that is really to help mitigate the services that are required by new construction that is created in town,” Staude said. She also mentioned concerns of property builders who were already in the midst of their projects and were not happy with the surprise fee. “City Council addressed this issue by changing the date of when the impact fee will start,” Staude said. “The impact fees won’t start until 14 months from now.”

Brad Paul, deputy executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, has been doing affordable housing policy work in Marin since 1975. He thinks he knows why there might be some resistance to Mill Valley’s new plan.

“A lot of people [in Mill Valley] have seen their community change. The traffic has gotten worse over the years, prices have gone up and up and up and up, and there’s some people who think this is just going to make things worse. I think the best way to deal with this is to be honest and open about what it is you’re doing,” Paul said. He also mentioned the use of existing housing as a way to lower opposition. Because there are no strict guidelines as to how to money from the fee will be used, it could go to the purchase of old homes that can be rented or sold at cheaper prices.  “When you buy an existing unit, you are letting people who already live in the neighborhood and already have their kids in the school not have to leave.”

Therefore, the community won’t worry about traffic, ugly new houses, and people they don’t know moving into their neighborhood. “If you say to them, you know that building down the street that has been here since the 1940’s? And you know all those families that live there now? Well they’re just going to get to stay, we aren’t going to force them to leave. And it’s easier for them to understand and accept that then worry about who those new people might be, and it’s not going to add 100 kids to the local high school,” Paul said.

Regardless of opposition, Mill Valley is going forward with its plan. City Council will continue to revise, but in 14 months time the first fees will be collected and soon there will be a sizable fund that will be put towards affordable housing in the form of new construction projects, building purchases and economic support for lower income families.