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Forum Fizzles

Heated atmosphere, no solutions at Marin town hall meeting on affordable housing



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"A lot of what you said makes sense, but a lot of your solutions are way down the road," said Steve Bingham, of San Rafael.

As the night went on, the town hall forum became a public space for people to decry mortgage payments, question the existence of global warming, and yell at Silvestri that some of his proposals sounded like communist socialism. Toni Shroyer and Susan Kirsh, supporters of the anti-ABAG movement and moderators of the forum, battled with speakers for control of the microphone and encouraged hostile forum-goers to wrap it up.

As previously reported in the Bohemian, 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. The median county rent is $1,523.

Due to land-use restrictions, zoning policies and neighborhood opposition, Marin is lacking in below-market-rate units. This has forced up to 60 percent of the local workforce to live outside the county.

A one-person household is considered "low-income" in Marin at $62,200, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development; households making less have to pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent. And an American Community Survey 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.

While there was talk of lawsuits to fight ABAG and more forums in the future to discuss alternatives, many who came hoping to learn about affordable housing options felt discouraged. Few solutions or changes were tangible—and that wasn't good enough, said a number of activists.

"Business as usual," said Kiki LaPorte of Sustainable Fairfax, "is how we got to where we are now."

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