A recent Marin Voice claimed that our streets are congested because neighboring counties don’t provide enough jobs to keep their own residents employed, specifically citing Sonoma County.
The truth is that over 80 percent of Sonoma County residents are employed within their own county. Other percentages are even more telling: 91 percent of Sonoma County’s jobs are filled by Sonoma County residents, while only 38 percent of Marin’s jobs are held by people who live here, simply because the cost of housing in Marin is prohibitive, while most of our jobs pay low- to middle-income wages.
As long as we demand the services our commuters provide, and we no doubt will continue to do so, workers will commute in.
Who are these commuters? Your city, town and county employees; your children’s teachers; the barista who serves your coffee; ditto for most of the carpenters, plumbers and electricians who service your homes.
What’s worse is that, in one of the wealthiest counties in the country, most of our new jobs are low paying.
Since 2010, our biggest job growth has been in the service economy. The Census Bureau says that, from 2010 to 2014, Marin added about 8,000 jobs, almost half of which paid under $40,000 per year. More than 80 percent of these new jobs were in the “retail,” “health care and social assistance” and “accommodation and food services” sectors, most of which pay lower-income salaries.
Increased incoming traffic from 2010 to 2014 matched changes in the local job market: Almost 7,000 of the 8,000 new jobs were filled by service workers who are driving to their workplace from other counties. Almost every unit of workforce housing we can build in Marin reduces the number of workers who have to commute here from outside the county.
Aside from our worsening traffic, our lack of workforce housing is making it more difficult, bordering on the impossible, to fill our new jobs:
• There are “help wanted” signs throughout our local retail outlets.
• SMART can’t find enough engineers to run its new trains because these new employees can’t afford housing even in Sonoma County, let alone in Marin.
• The San Rafael School District and its teachers’ union acknowledge that a big part of their difficulty in reaching agreement on a new contract is the price of housing. The IJ reports that the school district is actively investigating the feasibility of building housing for teachers.
Some opponents of new housing suggest that requiring residential projects to make 20 percent of new homes affordable (the usual practice in Marin) is just not enough. We agree. Just look at the exorbitant rents for the new Tam Ridge apartments in Corte Madera, where only 10 percent were required to be affordable. A 600-square-foot, one-bedroom market-rate apartment will rent for $3,150.
We, and our county, cities and towns instead should be aggressively pursuing sponsors who can build 100-percent affordable housing. Any new housing in Marin should at least provide a healthy mix for all income brackets.
How do we know that new workforce housing will go to Marin workers?
Just look at the facts: A county survey found that 91 percent of Marin’s affordable housing residents who are employed work in Marin. In 2008, the builders of Corte Madera’s San Clemente Place workforce housing marketed in Sonoma, Contra Costa and Solano counties before advertising in Marin to avoid a fair-housing challenge. Yet, of the 800-plus applicants, 82 percent were from Marin.
As long as we fail to build housing that the local workforce can afford, the people who work for us will continue to commute in from neighboring counties.
This makes no sense.
Steven Saxe of Corte Madera is a member of the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative. Wendi Kallins of Forest Knolls is a member of the Coalition for a Livable Marin.