Friday, September 25, 2015

Q & A with the Marin IJ

Legendary reporter, Nels Johnson of the Marin IJ asked all Marinwood CSD candidates these ten questions.


These are my answers:  HERE

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Working class priced out, kicked out in new Portland housing boom

Working class priced out, kicked out in new Portland housing boom

Developers have flocked to Portland to build high-end apartments. Here's how it's unfolding at one Southeast Portland neighborhood.

Enrique Rios, a 26-year-old Los Angeles transplant, lives with his fiancée and small dog in a 250-square-foot "micro-unit" apartment in Northwest Portland. It is the size of a college dorm room with space for a bed, a toilet and not much else. He cooks meals in a communal kitchen shared with other tenants.
Rios pays $995 a month.Seattle developer Footprint Northwest LLC bought the home that was at the site on Northwest Thurman Street in 2013, replacing it with a five-story, 54-unit building.
Call them "a-pod-ments," or hipster hovels, there are now hundreds of these micro-units in Portland. They are part of a real estate gold rush that is transforming Portland and is propelling housing costs to levels never before seen.
Seven years since the last housing bust flattened Oregon's economy, developers have let loose another tidal wave of building. From the red-hot Clinton neighborhood in Southeast Portland to St. Johns, developers are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into glitzy apartment buildings.
Despite 22,000 new apartments coming on line in the metropolitan area since 2012, more than half in Portland proper, vacancies remain practically non-existent. That has freed apartment owners to charge eye-popping rents -- think $1,200 for a 400-square-foot studio, as much as double that for a one-bedroom.
The average rent in Portland has jumped 41 percent since 2010 to $1,242, according to Axiometrics, a Dallas real estate analysis firm.
The boom raises troubling issues of economic inequality, as rent hikes have spiraled far beyond workers' wage increases. The posh new apartment houses are prevalent on Portland's east side, historically the gritty home to the city's working class. Even developers share foreboding that the central city is becoming a playground for the affluent while the young and the old and the people in the service economy no longer can afford to live there.
Critics have coined a nifty phrase for the trend -- "economic apartheid."
Affordable housing has become a hot political issue up and down the West Coast as prices continue to escalate. But addressing the downside of popularity and growth is no easy task. Said one local planner: "This is capitalism. How do you fight it?"
While bureaucrats mull policy, people are struggling to stay in their homes.
"We're getting a hundred calls a week from local people in some sort of housing crisis," said Bobby Weinstock, of Northwest Pilot Project.
Developers discover Portland
Real estate developer Patrick Kessi has brought the apartment boom to St. Johns, the blue-collar neighborhood where he attended college and raised his family. His company in January completed the Marvel 29, a 165-unit, four-story apartment building in the neighborhood's commercial district.

The building filled in just six months, fast enough to convince Kessi he wasn't charging enough rent. Nine months after the building opened, Kessi upped the rents on select units 30 percent or more. Rent for a 400-square-foot studio with a view of the St. Johns Bridge increased from $900 to $1,300 a month.
For years, the $3 per-square-foot barrier was to the Portland apartment rental market as the four-minute mile was to track. It was a price few developers dared charge.
"Now, we've broken through $3 and we're headed for $4 per square foot," said Mark Madden, a local developer who's built about 600 units, about half of them micro-units, since 2010.
To be sure, the apartment boom is a problem many cities wish they had.
The construction cranes dotting Portland's skyline mean jobs, tax revenue, and increasing property values. The developers are here because people are moving here, attracted by the vibe, the climate and environment. Portland's population has jumped by more than 36,000 since 2010.
Under the typical formula used by economists, the city would need 15,700 new units to house that kind of growth. But because so many Portlanders live alone – 35 percent, well beyond the U.S. average – the actual need is significantly higher, city officials say.
The target market for the developers are the thousands of highly paid tech workers now working in the central city, particularly transplants from the Bay Area and Seattle who view Portland housing as a bargain.
"The city is really attracting a lot of young, educated people and those people are attracting companies with jobs," said Sam Rodriguez of Mill Creek Residential, a Texas-based developer.
It wasn't too long ago that condominiums were developer's product of choice. But today, it's all about rentals. Between Millennials who can't borrow or don't want to be tied down and baby boomers who want to retire in the central city, the urban apartment market is hot.
"You have this confluence of the two largest demographics in the country," said Homer Williams, a Portland developer. "You've got the baby boomers downsizing and the Millennials who can't upsize."
Dennis Sackhoff made his fortune building single-family houses through Arbor Homes. But he saw the demographic trends and pivoted to multifamily. His new company, Urban Development Group, has built more than 650 apartments in the last three years.
National and regional developers also have discovered Portland.
Mill Creek has built or is under contract to build 1,600 apartments, and is considering another 200 to 400.
American Assets Trust of San Diego is finishing up 657 apartments in the Lloyd Center and will soon break ground on a 1,000-unit apartment project nearby.
Capstone Partners completed 975 units, including the Grant Park village apartments in the Irvington neighborhood and the Burnside 26 in the inner eastside.
In addition to the 750 units he's already built, Madden is planning another 180.
Between them, these five companies have invested more than a billion dollars building more than 5,000 apartments since 2010.
Supply and demand
Because of the strong in-migration, vacancies hover at just 3 percent, which gives landlords enormous leverage to raise rents. Portlanders suffered a 15 percent year-over-year average rent increase in the 12 months ended in August, the steepest increase in the country, according to Axiometrics.
As a result, Williams said, the portion of income Portlanders can expect to devote to housing has increased from 25 to 35 percent. Renters moving from major West Coast cities are used to paying 40 to 50 percent of their income for housing.
The escalating rents in Portland have attracted the biggest institutional investors in the world, who are buying apartment houses at hefty premiums.
Like home-flippers from the last housing boom, the developers are now reselling buildings only recently completed to big institutional investors. Mill Creek in July sold the Cordelia Apartments in Northwest Portland for $47.5 million to TIAA-Cref. A month later, Capstone sold the Burnside 26 to BlackRock, a huge financial firm, for $41.5 million, a record for an eastside property.
Based on numbers provided by Capstone, it appears the BlackRock sale generated an $11 million profit – more than 30 percent. The company declined to confirm that number.
BlackRock almost immediately raised the rents. Candace Camarillo said after just seven months in the building, she was informed the rent for her 683-square-foot one-bedroom would jump 23 percent to $1,895 a month.
Camarillo, a 35-year-old software developer, moved.
Terminated at the Sovereign
Colby Gillespie, 63, had every intention of living the rest of his life in his studio in the Sovereign Apartments in downtown Portland. He lived in the building at Southwest Broadway and Madison since 1980 and the $750 monthly rent fit his grocery checker's budget.
But the new owner of the building had other ideas. In May, Randall Investment Co. informed Gillespie and the residents of the other 43 units that a planned renovation required everyone to be out by the end of the year.
"I have no idea where I'm going to go," Gillespie said. "I'm really angry. It's all very cold and corporate."
Gillespie and his neighbors are suddenly among Portland's "displaced," those low- and middle-income locals forced out by the boom. While the big new projects have gotten the headlines, smaller operators have been snapping up dozens of smaller, older apartment buildings.
Tenants are often forced out by building renovations or rent increases they can't afford.
Advocacy groups struggle to bring attention to the impact. The Community Alliance of Tenants claims hundreds of Portlanders have been forced out by landlords seeking higher rents -- known in the rental business as a no-cause termination. Last week, the group declared a renters' state of emergency and called for a year-long moratorium on no-cause terminations and stricter notice of rent hikes.
The next day, Portland Commissioner Dan Saltzman said he would introduce new tenant protections requiring that landlords give a minimum of 90 days notice of a pending termination – up from the current 30 days.
Whatever new protections are enacted, it comes too late for residents of the Sovereign.
Randall bought the building for $3.7 million from an affiliate of the Oregon Historical Society in May 2014. The company didn't return telephone calls seeking comment.
For a year, it seemed like life would carry on as usual. Helena Thompson, 51, moved into the Sovereign in February 2015. No one from Randall warned the musician and photographer her stay would be short, she said.
Three months later, Randall made it official: Tenants had to be out by year's end.
They scrambled for affordable alternatives.
Thompson is leaving Portland. A former San Francisco resident, she said she's familiar with gentrification and has no desire to watch it happen in Portland.
Gillespie lucked into a Northwest Portland apartment. His rent, though, jumped 28 percent.
"It's just on the edge of what I can afford," Gillespie said. "But I'm one of the lucky few who found something."

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

For Renters, a Bleak Future

For Renters, a Bleak Future

America’s housing crisis will likely worsen during the next decade, with millions more struggling to make monthly payments.

Image Albert Gea / Reuters
Albert Gea / Reuters

Things haven’t been easy for renters over the past few years. Low vacancy rates—as more people move into rentals and fewer people move out—have meant skyrocketing prices. Add in years of stagnant wages, and it’s easy to comprehend why making rent is becoming a more difficult prospect for many families. And according to a new report, things may only get worse in the decade to come.
Recent research from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and Enterprise Community Partners, a real-estate research and investment organization, suggests that over the next 10 years, the rental population in the U.S. will climb by about 4 million people. (That’s actually a conservative estimate compared to the Urban Institute’s projections.)

The researchers estimate that the current rental crunch—the one where vacancies are around 7 percent, abouthalf of renters spend more than 30 percent of their salaries on housing, and one quarter spend 50 percent or more—is only going to get worse over the next decade. Even if housing prices and income rise as quickly as inflation (about 2 percent annually) the number of severely rent-burdened Americans (those paying 50 percent or more) would increase by 11 percent over the decade, to over 13 million people in 2025.
To get those numbers, Allison Charette, Chris Herbert, Andrew Jakabovics, Ellen Tracy Marya, and Daniel T. McCue, the authors of the paper, took a look at estimated population growth, household formation, and patterns in homeownership in order to figure out how many more households will form over the next decade, and how many of them will rent instead of buying. According to their estimates, the current trend—where fewer Americans opt for homeownership—will continue. And that could be bad news for household finances, since a greater number of Americans will wind up using a major chunk of their income just to pay for housing.

The authors ran several scenarios and only in the most optimistic one, when they estimated that household incomes outpaced inflation by 1 percentage point every year, does the number of burdened renters decrease at all. And even then, the decline was only 1.4 percent.
And an affordable housing shortage persists—both in existing structures and when it comes to the building pipeline, which means that even though construction seems to be happening everywhere in most major cities, much of that won’t help those struggling to make monthly payments.
Also of concern is how this renting crisis will coincide with the shifting demographics of the country. During the next decade, the minority population in the U.S. will continue to grow, but minorities are also much more likely to have difficulty making their paychecks stretch to accommodate growing rental prices—about one-quarter of minority renters have financial burdens compared to less than 20 percent for white households, according to the paper from Harvard.
And there’s bad news for the two largest generation populations, too. Stagnant wages, high rental prices, and decreased employment opportunities during (and following) the recession may continue to play out over the next decade for Millennials. Since the generation hasn’t been able to accumulate much wealth, they’re less likely to be prepared to buy homes or to have savings or other investments that can defray some of the burden of rental costs.
The outlook is especially troubling for the elderly. As the massive Boomer population ages, their financial limitations will likely mean more rent-burdened older Americans. Already, the report notes, 30 percent of elderly renters use more than half of their income on housing, that’s more than the national average. When it comes to aging, renters are often in a much worse financial position than their peers who were able to purchase homes. According to the study, the median American over the age of 65 who owns their own home, has enough wealth to afford 42 months of care in a nursing home. But the median renter over the age of 65 wouldn’t have enough wealth on hand to cover even one.

These findings are especially distressing given the fact that substantial economic gains feel like wishful thinking after years of  mostly stagnant incomes. And if current patterns persist, with rent prices increasing more quickly than incomes, each 0.25 percentage point increase in rent will mean an additional 400,000 Americans who are spending half of their pay on housing, leaving them little money to spend on their other basic needs.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Marin City Residents Deserve to be Heard

Marin City residents deserve to be heard

By Royce McLemore

In reading the IJ article, “Study, Marin City, Canal among Bay Area communities at high risk for gentrification,” it was reported that in Marin City “one option being explored is a public/private partnership in which a developer would rebuild or upgrade existing housing and possibly add market rate units.”

The Marin Housing Authority’s consideration of that option justifies the concerns of residents of Marin City’s Golden Gate Village that the authority’s planning and strategy is formula for gentrification.

The Marin Housing Authority has wasted funds on studies aimed at providing cover for developers to extract value by adding market-rate density into an already overbuilt working class neighborhood — the very definition of gentrification.

Is there a need for inclusive housing in Marin County? Yes.

Should one single neighborhood, an historic neighborhood at that, be the focus of housing development? No.

The planning that Lewis Jordan, the authority’s executive director, described is exactly what the recent Supreme Court case spoke to, disparate impact.

We have seen this before and lost the fabric of great neighborhoods to what simply amounts to convenience and greed — people priced out of their community for developer profits!

The Marin Housing Authority is doing the same thing, as usual, but somehow promising a different result. The plan Mr. Jordan describes is no more than auctioning the Marin City community’s future to a favored developer.

Creating a path for development without gentrification is the reason why the Golden Gate Village Residents Council, which is the official voice for the residents of Golden Gate Village, worked with local economy experts, housing experts, federal and private institutions, and residents themselves to develop and share a community-centered plan, including precedents for outcomes and costs that are in line with restoring, not erasing, a legacy.

First, we formally proved that Golden Gate Village is historically significant and should be preserved.

Golden Gate Village was not built to be like any public housing; the intent was to create a sense of home for black people who were left behind after the first phase of redevelopment in Marin City in the late ’50s. The property was designed by Aaron Greene, West Coast partner of Frank Lloyd Wright, embedding the same theory of design used in development of the Marin Civic Center, a national historical landmark.

In fact, Greene was the architect who oversaw the development of the Civic Center, during the same time as Golden Gate Village took form. Golden Gate Village is, in reality and design, the “sister” property to the Civic Center.

The deferral of maintenance of this public property was allowed to happen for over 10 years. This neglect of an historic property has been intentional, to create a case for demolition of a unique property.

Case in point, the county Board of Supervisors will raise $21 million to repair just the roof of the Civic Center. They have the ability to do the same for its “sister” property to cover the cost of all necessary maintenance, at less than the cost of a roof.

Mr. Jordan continues to ignore his obligation to communicate the interest of residents by failing to mention any aspect or even the existence of the resident plan in the quotes for this article.

This omission reflects a continual refusal to recognize and share the fact that the Golden Gate Village Resident Council has had a detailed plan for funding and executing deferred maintenance, while at the same time revitalizing the local economy supports for this working class community.

Lastly, the Marin City community is more diverse than any community in Marin and its housing density, by a factor of eight, is greater than our neighboring communities.

Our community is at maximum, “built-out” in accordance with our community plan. Preservation and renovation of the neighborhood that exists, versus “demolition by diffusion” if that happens with infill development of market rate units, is the only answer that we will accept as truly resident-led and community-centered.

Royce McLemore is  a leader of the Golden Gate Village Residents Council, a former board member of the Marin Housing Authority.

Monday, September 21, 2015

ACTION ALERT: Please sign the petition to Clean Up the Toxic Waste at Marinwood Plaza!

The former Prosperity Cleaners site at 187 Marinwood Avenue San Rafael, CA is a toxic waste hotspot that has been festering since 1990 or earlier. We demand the immediate clean up of the toxic hotspot inside the cleaners and further testing to include neighboring residential areas and the Silveira Ranch. 

We demand an immediate clean up of this hazardous waste. Hundreds of people including pregnant women and small children are at risk.

Note: A meeting is being held in Oakland at the Water Board Headquarters on Wed. Aug 12th . The toxic waste IS NOT CURRENTLY being treated and the Board needs to hear from the public. This carcinogenic waste potentially endangers the life of hundreds of residents. Immediate clean up of the source contamination and further testing is needed. The public health must be protected.

Monday Morning Funnies and the Economy

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Op-Ed Go ahead, water your lawn

Op-Ed Go ahead, water your lawn

Sprinklers watering the lawn in front of a house in Beverly Hills. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Have you watered your yard lately? You probably should.

Such a recommendation might seem irresponsible in the face of the California drought, but the recent rush to slash urban landscape water use, and in the process let trees, shrubs and lawns decline or die, is shortsighted, foolish, expensive and, most tragic of all, unnecessary.

Buddy, can you spare a rate hike?

It's shortsighted because the urban landscape provides numerous benefits and amenities that add immeasurably to the quality of our lives. To list just a few, trees, shrubs and lawns provide: beauty and ornament; shade and energy savings in heating and cooling; privacy; food; wildlife habitat; oxygen; jobs; carbon sequestration to help mitigate global warming; rain capture for dust and erosion control; enhanced property values; recreational opportunities; cultural and historic value; and even psychological well-being.

One Canadian study this year showed that having 10 more trees on a city block improves health perception (or the feeling of wellness) in ways comparable to an increase in annual personal income of $10,000, moving to a neighborhood with a $10,000 higher median income, or being seven years younger.

It's foolish because urban landscape irrigation accounts for such a small part of the water used in California. Although it's true that 50% of residential water use takes place outdoors, data show that less than 9% of the developed water used in California ends up on the urban landscape. So if we never watered another tree, shrub, ground cover, lawn or flower again in California, the state would save at the most 9% of its water.

It's expensive because, as landscapes go dry, the direct costs could be enormous to manage and clean up dead and dying trees, retrofit irrigation systems and replant landscapes. Also, numerous indirect or hidden costs are associated with this strategy, including lawsuits over property damage and human injury or even death from failing trees, increased fire risk and, in the long-term, lost jobs and reduced economic activity for gardeners and landscapers.
The poorly crafted landscape water conservation rules, such as watering only two days a week ... are horticulturally unsound.-

It's tragic because research at the University of California over the last 30 years shows that through appropriate landscape water management — the right amount, at the right time — we can reduce water use 30% or more. We could therefore meet most of the mandated cutback goals yet still retain our trees, shrubs, ground covers and, yes, even some area of lawn. It's absolutely unnecessary to let them go brown and die. It's also unnecessary to make wholesale changes in our landscape palette, ripping out established flora and replanting with “drought tolerant” plants, to save water. Our research has shown that most of our trees, shrubs and ground covers in California if planted, established, and cared for and irrigated properly are already quite drought tolerant.

The poorly crafted landscape water conservation rules, such as watering only two days a week and/or only 15 minutes of run time per station, are horticulturally unsound, because they do not take into account sprinkler precipitation rates, soil types, soil water-holding capacity, plant type or rooting depth, among other factors. The no-water-on-lawn-medians decree takes the prize for ignorance, though, because most cities have stopped watering their medians entirely without making provisions for the trees. As the lawns go brown, the trees are declining and dying.

Lawns have of course been especially singled out as water-wasting culprits and borne the brunt of the anti-water scorn — but this, too, is unscientific. They account for only about 3% to 5% of all the water used in California. And our research has shown that warm-season grasses need 20% less water than tall fescue, the most common lawn grass; thus, significant savings can be attained without doing away with lawns completely and instead simply changing them from tall fescue to a warm-season grass.

Replacing lawns with artificial turf isn't a good idea; turf, in fact, has serious environmental drawbacks, among them increased surface temperatures, heat collection and retention, lack of carbon sequestration, no absorption of greenhouse gases, and increased water run-off — as well as the fact that turf is plastic-based and thus a petroleum product.

Official but unacknowledged state policy for the last decade has been to support water demand for future growth primarily by trying to wring out savings through urban landscape water conservation. But with the state projected to add 10 million people by 2025, and with landscape irrigation accounting for such a small portion of the water used in the state, any sixth-grader can do the math and see that this is a nonsensical approach.

What's the policymakers' agenda here? The strategy is not so much to achieve significant statewide water savings — because there simply isn't that much to save — but rather to put the screws to homeowners so they will feel inconvenienced and, therefore, be more willing to support future controversial state water projects, like the gigantic twin tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Urban dwellers and homeowners make easy targets because there is no one unified voice with abundant resources that can advocate for them. But it's misguided to single out urban landscape water use. Even in this historic drought, landscape and especially trees are worth having and saving. We can have our landscape — and still save water.

Donald R. Hodel and Dennis R. Pittenger each have more than 30 years of experience as UC Cooperative Extension advisors who specialize in the selection and management of trees and landscape plants, including irrigation.

Those who are capable of Tyranny are Capable of Perjury to Sustain It.