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April, 2008



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Marin City's Affordable Housing Threatened; Exec. Director Leaves
By Karen Nakamura

There's been an interesting development in the ongoing struggle for affordable workforce housing and actually affordable housing. It's the exit of the Executive Secretary of the Marin Housing Authority and Executive Director of the Marin Workforce Housing Trust, Barbara Collins. Leaving with flying colors and warm wishes, she's transferring to Santa Monica to be closer to her family but some in Marin wonder if she didn't just cut and run.
The reasoning has to do with a complaint filed on August 23, 2007 by the Marin City Golden Gate Village Residence Council (GGV-RC), which oversees the two tower structure designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's student Aaron Green and visible from Highway 101. Cathy Cortez, a resident of Bradley House, an elderly and disabled residential complex in Tiburon, is also listed on the complaint.

The complaint was filed in a letter to Richard Rainey, regional director of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, (HUD). Residents wanted to know if there were plans to "dispose of any or the entire Marin City complex ...the only Family Public Housing stock in Marin County?" They also cited a conflict of interest on the part of Director Collins and the lack of planning access to all residents. HUD mandates residents participate in any decision-making process.

Enter the Marin County Workforce Housing Trust (MCWHT), a "public/private partnership" formed to find solutions for the housing needs of Marin workers, a laudable goal. Because of high housing costs, many workers are unable to live in the county. However, what well meaning leaders of Marin sometimes forget is while they say affordable housing, that means rentals ranging from $1600-$1800 a month. A huge number of Marin's workforce's total income is barely over that. With wages ranging from $10 to $13 an hour and $1600 to $2000 a month gross, these also valuable workers are shut out of workforce-housing units. Imagine then living on SSI and in a wheelchair.

Seeking a viable way out of the situation, the Trust eyed properties it already owns as a feasible way to build the necessary housing. Its executive director at the time, Barbara Collins was in the forefront of pushing this approach. At GGV, there would be a very Marin rebuild consisting of multi-income units. The idea was low income residents would enjoy the benefits along with a range of the more affluent. Again, well-meaning officials miss the point. While there would be a proposed allotment of 8 low-income units at the new GGV, 300 apartments would be lost and up to 292 families displaced. Even the 8 families allowed back would be removed for the duration of the construction.

So, while rumors were flying that the towers were going to be leveled for workforce housing, GGV-RC discovered HUD had granted MHA the right to dispose of HUD properties without "one-to-one replacement." Crudely stated, MHA can dump the elderly and disabled onto the street without recourse. As Bradley House and GGV are subsidized and their tenants qualified as low income, it's nearly impossible for those residents to find affordable alternative housing.

The complaint stated Director Collins lacked a working knowledge of the commission's regulations; not understanding the difference between project and tenant based Section 8s, multi-housing vs. public housing and lease requirements. It also pointed to the inability of MHA to rent refurbished units even with a waiting list and the millions of taxpayers' dollars spent to fix them up.

Section 8 vouchers make up the difference between a resident's income and unit costs. Project subsidies help pay expenses for an entire apartment complex. GGV subsidy monies were awarded individuals on the GGV waiting list to get apartments elsewhere, thus reducing funds available to run GGV, already teetering on bankruptcy. It was also discovered recently that HUD now mandates that each project has to stand on its own. If GGV isn't rented with at least 70% occupancy, it will lose its HUD subsidies. These facts, the inability to rent remodeled units, the possible dumping of the disabled and the removable of critical management staff caused the GGV-RC to petition HUD. They were afraid these actions were a ploy to support tearing down their homes to build workforce housing."

Overall, the residents felt MHA and the Workforce Housing Trust didn't address their fears adequately, causing residents to feel they were being left out of the process, even though they have a representative on the board. They also felt Ms. Collins was in violation of conflict of interest when as Executive Director of MHA and Executive Secretary of the Workforce Housing Trust, she worked to benefit workforce housing projects to the detriment of her charges in other housing units.

We spoke to Royce McLemore, President of the Marin County Golden Gate Village Residential Council, and asked if the Council had received any follow through from the HUD office.

"Currently, things are on hold. We met in San Francisco in HUD's Inspector General's office when the regional office decided, based on our complaint, to do an audit. At the time, they didn't think the audit would take long. While they were going over the material, it probably wouldn't be in depth because they're no longer able to do extensive audits. Besides, they didn't expect to find any discrepancies. As far as we know, they're still doing the audit. We haven't heard of any decision. Then all of a sudden, here comes Barbara Collins' resignation. Whatever is going on, we're hoping her replacement listens to all of the people concerned in the overall plan."

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