For Richer or for Poorer?

In wealthy Marin, opposition to low-income housing is high—and so are the numbers of the county's poor, aged and disabled who need it most

| March 28, 2012
Note: This is the second part in a series on senior care in Marin County.


Kathleen Burkland prays the Rosary, has a master's degree in psychology and, before arthritis forced her to quit, earned her living as a counselor for at-risk teens.

A year ago, she was also homeless.

The 61-year-old grandmother wears a dark blazer and white pendant when I enter her studio apartment in Novato's Next Key transitional housing on a recent Thursday. Straight, neatly combed gray hair falls to her shoulders. She leans heavily on a cane—the result of six knee surgeries—as she leads me to a table by a window overlooking the green fields and clear morning skies of idyllic Marin.

Now enrolled in a Ph.D. program that will allow her to teach online, Burkland says the stigma of transience kept her from sharing her situation when she was shelter-bound—especially in one of the wealthiest census tracts in the United States.

"I could never really say where I was when I was [in the shelter]," she says, resting her right hand on the cane. "It was humiliating—all these people have wonderful places to live and all this money, and I would think, 'God, I don't want anybody to know I'm homeless.'"

Burkland may seem like an unlikely candidate for homelessness, but in Marin, she's not. She's over 50 and physically disabled; according to the county's 2011 homelessness survey, she fits right in.

"We've noticed that the homeless population is aging," says Paul Fordham, deputy director for the county's main network of shelters, Homeward Bound. He references the fact that roughly one-fourth of the total homeless population (287 of 1,220) was over 51 in last year's count, and offers several explanations.

"Anecdotally, I can say that a lot of things catch up with folks later in life: PTSD from the military, putting aside an amount for retirement that then isn't enough, disabilities. And then market-rate housing is so high."

It's not just high; for renters, Marin tops the list of the least affordable markets in the United States, according to an annual study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And while the median county rent of $1,523 shouldn't be a problem for the median county household earning $89,268, other residents, such as seniors and the disabled, are struggling with one of life's most basic necessities: where to live.

In some communities, this is where low-income housing would come into play, but for a variety of reasons—land-use restrictions, zoning policies and neighborhood opposition among them—Marin is lacking in below-market-rate units. According to a Novato-based advocacy group, this has forced 60 percent of the local workforce to live outside the county. But the shortage is also affecting Marin's disproportionately large population of seniors—21.2 percent over 62, compared to 14.2 percent California-wide—many of whom live on fixed incomes and struggle with age-based disabilities.

And the numbers say it's a big shortage. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers a one-person household "low-income" in Marin at $62,200, meaning that below that householders will have to pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. An American Community Survey (ACS) from 2006-2010 examining age and ratio of income to the poverty level indicates that over half of Marin's residents over 65 fall into this bracket. According to a housing inventory released by the county in 2008, Marin is home to only 1,032 low-income units designated for seniors and 196 units for people with disabilities, a rough ratio of just one unit rented per 17 who qualify.

Of course, many aging adults may not want or even need subsidized housing. Some live in homes bought and paid off years ago. But wait lists tell another story.


Comments (8)

Showing 1-8 of 8

Rachel - What a great job you did on this story, and we were happy to provide our perspective. There are so many people in need in Marin. I hope that some of the stores who are not yet donating their "spoils" will get in touch with us so we can help them make a difference in this county.

Congratulations again on this excellent article.

report 11 likes, 1 dislike   
Posted by Ruth Schwartz on 03/28/2012 at 12:49 PM

Rachel, thanks for a beautifully presented story. You did justice to the need of senior and disabled housing in Marin County. I challenge people to see this need and be an agent for change. Please join Stand Up for Neighborly Novato or other organizations that represent affordable housing. Thanks again, Rachel, for your compassion and honesty in presenting this article. Kathleen Burkland

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Posted by Kathy Burkland on 04/02/2012 at 4:24 PM

I so appreciate Kathleen, Terry, Ruth and Curt giving us this personal perspective on the need for reasonably priced homes in Novato and Marin. Marin has a proud tradition of preserving our open space and resisting sprawl. And now as a caring community, we must also continue to provide well designed homes for our seniors, working families and persons living with disabilities.

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Posted by Annan Paterson on 04/02/2012 at 4:29 PM


You article on housing in Marin County is excellent.
Your stories were so impactful.
Congratulations on a job very well done.

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Posted by Judy Arnold on 04/02/2012 at 10:31 PM

Usually jobs, family, friends and church ties us to an area where we want to live. For those that do not work, that is one less tie to the community where they want to live. Yet some folks still want to live in one of the most expensive places in the United States even if they have to cut back on their medicine and food. It seems to me that folks that don't work or are looking for a job would have a better quality of life if they would be willing to relocate to an area where there is a lower cost of living. Housing advocates say folks should be able to live where they want to live even if tax payers have to subsidize them. Well I want to live on the water in Tiburon but I can't find anyone to subsidize me.

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Posted by Bob on 04/03/2012 at 11:31 AM

Kathleen!!! CONGRATULATIONS!!! LOVE that you have a home. You look GREAT gal! Hi from me and Bodhi (remember us - Golden Retriever Service Dog and lil ole me ; ) Please get in touch with us if ya can

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Posted by Kirsten Michel on 04/04/2012 at 3:59 PM

I am in agreement with Bob. For the sake of sounding selfish, I worked hard my entire life saved my money, bought a house and raised a family here in Marin. My children grew up with the knowledge that they probably couldn't ever afford a house here and moved to where they could. I am opposed to the State mandated affordable housing requirements and its basis. The fact that we in Novato are considered an urban area is totally false. This is based upon population rather than density. San Francisco for years has been removing their housing projects and not replacing them. Are we now supposed to build them here?

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Posted by Ray on 04/05/2012 at 11:39 AM

WE NEED HELP .. There are a group of families (even newborn babies) that have been evicted /and or told "YOUR TIME IS UP-GET OUT" by Homeward Bound of Marin FEC (family emergency center) they put locks on your door and anything they can find along the window sill to block it from opening so you can't get your PERSONAL BELONGINGS out. Maybe a change of clothes, your food, family pictures etc.. (got pictures) This management they have there at FEC is beyond any words I can say, they are mean, rude, discriminate, cut you and your children down, (even go tell your small children grown up things to pass to their parents example "Better tell your mom/dad you ALL have to get out soon-you should be packing not playing with other kids) WOW... Children are/have ben to the hospital due to Bed bugs (FEC protocol catch one put it in a zip-lock bag and show us..) are you joking. Families that are on SSI-we are NOT appropriate for any of their housing. Go to them to say the heater is not working for months Comment is "This is NOT a 5 star motel.."". I could go on lol.. but theres just to much.. Did I mention why the small children have gotten so sick(also my 17 son) called Black Mold on top of thousands of cockroaches.. We are all that tried to tell the management - FEC threw out into the cold. Tell me where the $5.1 million dollars a year is going or ask the management what new cars they have gotten. The program in itself is fantastic - its the people whom run it... Thanks for listening...

Posted by debby on 04/26/2012 at 9:02 PM
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