The present community housing shortage in West Marin is acute and immediate. A major irony is that working people cannot find housing in an area in which a large percentage of houses are vacant most of the time. One street in Stinson Beach has 15 houses on it, only one of which is occupied fulltime. The Bolinas School District, which 15 years ago had 240 students, now has 86 -- young families with school age children can’t find affordable housing in West Marin.
The volunteer Fire Departments of both Stinson Beach and Bolinas are short of volunteers because people young enough to put on heavy gear and leap onto a fire engine at 2am can’t afford to live in either town. This lack of volunteers means that to provide 24-hour coverage the Fire Departments must hire paid duty personnel, resulting in budget shortfalls.
Central to this issue is that many properties that were once long-term rentals occupied by local families, tradespeople, small business owners, service providers and emergency responders have been turned into short-term rental properties. This lack of rental housing has displaced locals, eroded school attendance and civic and social activities and has lessened the strong sense of community that once characterized the coastal towns of West Marin. An often-heard statement is that our coastal communities are being “hollowed out.”
The Stinson Beach Affordable Housing Committee (SBAHC) was created in 2016 to address this problem. In the Fall of 2016 the SBAHC successfully negotiated the acquisition of 21 Calle de Embarcadero, Stinson’s first and only affordable housing project, an eight-unit building now known as Ocean Terrace. The purchase of Ocean Terrace was accomplished by a collaborative group of public, private, non-profit entities and individual donors including Marin Community Foundation, Marin Community Development Agency, Marin Housing Authority, Marin Board of Supervisors, Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, Stinson Beach Affordable Housing Committee and a list of local donors too long to list here. (see https://www.ptreyeslight.com/article/stinson-apartment-complex-secured-affordable-housing)
Our second project was Measure W, a ballot measure that appeared on the November 2018 ballot to provide financial support in perpetuity for both community housing and emergency responder needs in West Marin. Measure W increased West Marin’s Transient Occupancy Tax, a fee charged by Marin County to travelers for overnight accommodations, by 4% to create an annual pool of funds totaling approximately $1,400,000 per annum. These funds will be used solely in West Marin, where the conversion of long-term rental housing to short term AirBnB/VRBO rentals has created an enormous crisis in community housing availability. The same visitor influx that has taken so many homes off the long-term rental market in West Marin has also strained to breaking point the capabilities of the emergency responders in the area, often volunteer fire departments. The Measure W funds will be evenly split between volunteer fire departments and developers of community housing.
Members of the Stinson Beach Affordable Housing Committee created the first draft of the ballot measure proposal, worked on the committee that wrote the ballot measure and raised more than half of the campaign funds. A member of SBAHC acted as the campaign chairperson and several other members actively planned and executed key elements of the campaign. Measure W passed with a 73.7% majority and will be providing funds this year and every year to follow.
The Stinson Beach Affordable Housing Committee is presently working on two potential multi-unit affordable housing projects in Stinson Beach. While these efforts are in their preliminary stages, they show some promise of success.
We are also working on a plan to forge a closer relationship with the Stinson Beach Village Association, a local organization which provided an inspiring amount of support for our efforts on behalf of Measure W. Working closely with the Village Association will provide us with a broader range of information about opportunities for additional long-term rentals, the creation of junior units and off-market acquisitions.
As well, we are planning an outreach program to existing short-term rental operators who may be tiring of the work and expense of doing short-term rentals and may be looking for the dependability of long-term tenants.
Anyone who would like to know more about the County’s programs to make it easier to create rental units -- or with any information about housing opportunities that may be or become available is invited to contact us.