Plans for an 82-unit affordable housing complex at Marinwood Plaza pose fiscal hardships for the Dixie School District but could be a boon for merchants, although so many variables are involved that impacts of the project remain uncertain, a new study indicates.
The study by Marin Economic Forum chief Robert Eyler outlines a variety of potential fiscal and social factors associated with the controversial plan for 72 affordable and 10 market-rate dwellings.
The report, commissioned by the county to provide a fresh perspective on the project, will be discussed when Eyler presents it to the county board at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Civic Center.
The report says that the project in which most units would not pay property taxes could wallop the Dixie schools budget but concludes that in light of varying development, realty market, residential occupancy, school fiscal and related situations, much remains unclear.
"The more kids that come to Dixie as a result of the new housing units, the more pressure Dixie will face in terms of resources per student," Eyler noted. He added the district's revenue loss could range from 2.1 percent, if 45 new students are involved, to a 4.69 percent loss if 100 new students are enrolled as a result of the affordable project — as school officials expect.
"Dixie may also face additional, unfunded costs because the new students will be eligible for additional benefits from the school due to low-to-moderate income status.""Dixie may face higher enrollments and lower levels of financial resources per student at the same time costs are rising without additional revenues," according to the report. "The bottom line is that new students may arrive without enough new revenues to cover new costs."
Benefits include an economic boom of sorts because "new households provide a spending infusion where they are located," as well as an immediate burst of construction jobs. Eyler estimated "annual spending introduced into Marinwood" at roughly $3.5 million, with local merchants among those benefiting.
"The academic literature is relatively split on the effects of below market rate housing on local school, housing markets and other factors," according to the study, but "there is no literature basis to suggest" affordable units will mean lower area housing prices, crime or other social ills. "As for increasing criminal activity, the popular consensus seems to be that reducing the concentration of below market rate housing — in a sense placing the units in places where few currently exist — reduces incentives to engage in criminal activity," the report said. And as for health concerns, "most research suggests a positive relationship between moving to more affluent, stable neighborhoods from more impoverished neighborhoods."
"The more the design can match the local area's character, the better in terms of reducing detriments to local housing markets," it added. "In short, the effects of these 82 units are unknown and will depend on how much the units act as substitutes for Marinwood's current housing stock and how much they are perceived as a completely different market," the report said. "If new units are viewed as similar to existing homes and no increase in demand occurs, there would be pressure on Marinwood's overall housing prices to fall. However, if the units are 100 percent occupied and off the market relatively quickly, there is little reason to assume downward value pressure."
Eyler cited studies about how affordable housing impacts realty values, finding one in Northern California that "suggests that housing prices went up" and another indicating that "single family housing prices are not affected significantly in either direction" but fall faster in value when the housing market swoons. Yet another study yielded slightly different results. "In general, the literature is small and mixed on how below market rate housing units affect their local markets," according to Eyler's report.
"No study or data exists to make a precise estimate of the number of students Dixie schools will receive from the new units, or the type of households that will be formed," according to Eyler's report. "More students attending Dixie schools without (property tax) revenue coming from new households may keep Dixie state-funded, and at a lower level of resources than otherwise."
Dixie Schools Superintendent Thomas J. Lohwasser said school officials just received Eyler's report and have not analyzed it, but noted that in addition to other variables, district funding is in flux amid state rules "that are not as clear as they used to be." Dixie for the first time this year became a state-funded district — rather than a basic aid district buoyed by robust tax revenues.
"It's a very complicated time," Lohwasser said, adding he did not know what fiscal impact a Marinwood development would have on schools.
One thing for certain, the schools chief added: "If the students are there, we will serve them."
A new report by the Marin Economic Forum indicates that in many ways, Marinwood is a demographic microcosm of Marin.
"Marinwood is, at the median, more affluent than Marin County overall," and "less ethnically diverse," as well as a bit older, even though its household size is larger, as is the percentage of households with children. Those 65 and older make up 21 percent of Marinwood's population. Countywide, the ratio is 17 percent.
Marinwood has:
• An estimated 5,870 residents in 2012, down from 6,357 in 2000.
• 2,351 households in 2012, including 583 with grade school children, down from 903 households with school children in 2000.
• A median household income of $130,000; 31 percent greater than Marin's average median income.
• A 1.7 percent vacancy in the stock of housing, well below the county's 7.1 per vacancy rate in 2011.
• Housing stock that includes 3.3 percent apartments, as compared to 27 percent in the county overall.
• 84 percent owner-occupied housing, as compared to 63 percent in Marin overall.