The Golden Gate Village complex in Marin City, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)
The Golden Gate Village complex in Marin City, Calif., on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

By LORENZO MOROTTI | lmorotti@marinij.com | Marin Independent JournalApril 3, 2021 at 5:48 p.m.

The Marin Housing Authority board has signed off on a program to help low-income tenants attain homeownership.

The program allows participants to use Section 8 vouchers for mortgage payments. But some critics said the program’s requirements will keep it out of reach for the people it is supposed to help.

“I realize this is not the one-size-fits-all solution,” said Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, whose district includes Marin City. “This is another tool in our toolbox.”

Applicants with debt have to prove they are making active payments. They also have to be enrolled in the “family self-sufficiency” program, a five-year nationwide initiative offering credit repair, homeownership education, mental health support and help meeting housing authority requirements.

The nationwide program has about 150 participants, said Gayle Suits, program coordinator. She said 16 families graduated to homeownership last year.

Once in the program, participants can use their Section 8 vouchers to make mortgage payments or pay rent on the open market, Suits said.

“Currently, Golden Gate Village residents only have access to the Section 8 waitlist via the waitlist being open, which it has not been open in the past 18 years, or through a verified health and safety risk to the family,” she said. “It’ll open doors for them to have access to this program. Possession of the voucher will enable a household to rent affordably anywhere within the country.”

Public commenters during the board meeting criticized the program, arguing its criteria were too stringent and seemed like a means to justify the county’s controversial project with Michaels Development Co. to redevelop Golden Gate Village.

“The presentation points to an attempt to check the path-to-ownership box so MHA can move forward with the Michaels plan,” said Janis Reynolds. “The real issue here is for racial justice.”

Scott Clark, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo, said the program doesn’t address the concerns of Golden Gate Village residents.

“As has been explained by others, the requirements are unrealistic for so many Golden Gate Village residents,” Clark said. “The credit score, the minimum down payment of $20,000, and then they’ve got to go out and find affordable housing in Marin.”

“And the practical implications of this is that they’ll have to leave Golden Gate Village, which is the community that they love,” he said.

Lewis Jordan, executive director of the Marin Housing Authority, said the program is not related to the renovation plan. He described it as a path to choice.

“Those who are in our FSS program who live in Golden Gate Village and want to stay in Golden Gate Village, they will,” Jordan said, referring to the financial self-sufficiency program. “But for those who are saying, I want another option. I want the option of having a home with the backyard that my children can play in — or for those who are saying that I want a home in Marin City or in some of our other beautiful communities in this county or around the country — it’s providing an opportunity for them to have choice.”

Suits added that there are people in the program who have saved $20,000.

“We currently have over 10 people in the family self-sufficiency program who have either exceeded this amount or are very close to this amount,” she said.

Royce McLemore, president of the Golden Gate Village Resident Council, said the program is largely ineffective. According to its website, about 6% of graduates have bought homes.

McLemore said the program does little compared to the council’s “deep green” plan, which seeks to modernize apartments without tearing them down, create job opportunities for residents and establish a community land trust to promote home ownership in Marin City, not elsewhere.

“Enough is enough,” she said. “It’s time to sit down with us as residents and do the right thing for our community.”

Supervisor Damon Connolly asked Jordan if there is a way to create a land trust or incorporate Marin City. Jordan said that is beyond the housing authority board’s scope.

“It really touches upon the county and its supervisors as it relates to the different options that, in fact, can be made available,” Jordan said.

He added that there have been ongoing conversations and a land trust does not seem feasible.

Moulton-Peters said she has met and will continue to meet with Golden Gate Village residents to listen and work out solutions.

“I want this project to be successful,” she said. “The entire Marin Housing board and the Board of Supervisors wants the renovation of Golden Gate Village to be successful. I’d like to get it done in my first term but I’ll settle for a second term.”