The Golden Gate Village Resident Council expected the Marin Housing Authority Board of Commissioners to reject their proposal to convert the deteriorating property into a housing co-op managed by residents. They were right.
At the end of a five-hour meeting on Nov. 15, the board voted 5-2 for the Marin Housing Authority’s plan to keep Golden Gate Village, an historic 296-unit public housing complex, under its control.
The two competing plans differed in the financing methods used to pay for the long overdue rehabilitation.
The resident council’s proposed financing would have permitted the property to convert to a Limited Equity Housing Cooperative (LEHC), a homeownership model designed for affordable housing communities. Under the LEHC model, Golden Gate Village residents could have bought in at a low, subsidized price, built limited equity and had the ability to pass on the property to their heirs.
The housing authority’s financing plan uses Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and other loans, which precludes a housing co-op. A limited partnership, including private investors and the Marin Housing Authority, not the residents, would own Golden Gate Village.
Located in Marin City, Golden Gate Village houses about 600 predominantly Black residents who have long complained the property has fallen into serious disrepair. Reports of mold, rodents, plumbing leaks, broken heating, faulty wiring and fire hazards have largely been ignored by the housing authority, prompting some residents to file a lawsuit that is currently wending its way through federal court.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) threatened to take over the Marin Housing Authority due to repeated “failing or near failing physical scores” at Golden Gate Village. Under HUD’s direction, the local agency developed a “corrective action plan” for the property’s revitalization.
Even under these circumstances, the seven-member board, composed of the Marin County Board of Supervisors and two “tenant commissioners,” gave the housing authority an overwhelming vote of confidence, as they have repeatedly done in the past.
The resident council is left wondering why only the Marin Housing Authority was permitted to present their plan at the meeting. Both proposals were presented at last month’s meeting, and several board members asked the resident council to clarify some elements of their plan.
Although the resident council prepared responses to the board’s questions, they were informed several days before the November meeting that they would not be allowed to address the board, according to Barbara Bogard, who is a member of the Golden Gate Village volunteer strategy team.
It appears only two members of the board wanted to learn the answers to their questions. Supervisor Damon Connolly, along with tenant commissioner Sarah Canson, cast the dissenting votes.
“I would have liked to have seen the residents’ council at the table and be given the time to flesh out the financing,” Connolly said in an email to the Pacific Sun.
A three-member board subcommittee, consisting of Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni and Tenant Commissioner Homer Hall, made the decision not to give the resident council time at the meeting, according to Connolly.
The trio, along with Board President Katie Rice and Supervisor Judy Arnold, approved the housing authority’s proposal, thereby disregarding scores of Marin residents who spoke in favor of the resident council’s plan during a public comment period prior to the vote.
Remarkably, only two of the 60 speakers supported the housing authority’s scheme. Both are Golden Gate Village residents; one is employed by the Marin Housing Authority.
Golden Gate Village Resident Council President Royce McLemore and countywide supporters of the residents’ plan say racial discrimination guided the board’s decision. As an example, McLemore points to Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters’ recent comment that the residents lack the expertise to run a housing co-op.
“Our plan was to hire a management firm, just like the housing authority’s plan,” McLemore said in an interview. “We have the ability to interview and hire a management firm, and then make sure they do what’s within the contract. Stephanie has no respect for the residents. None.”
Moulton-Peters told the Pacific Sun in an interview on Oct. 27 that she believes “Golden Gate Village residents can manage the property with the management company.” Still, that belief apparently wasn’t enough to overcome her objections to the resident council’s plan, which she outlined in an opinion piece run by the Marin Independent Journal on the day before the vote.
While Moulton-Peters expressed her support of a housing co-op’s benefits, she argued the model doesn’t fit the scale of the Golden Gate Village project and questioned the feasibility of the resident council’s financing plan. In conclusion, Moulton-Peters wrote, “…we must move forward with making the immediate, securely funded improvements to Golden Gate Village.”
However, some aren’t convinced the housing authority’s funding is as secure as Moulton-Peters suggests. Lisa Bennett, a certified public accountant and member of the Golden Gate Village strategy team, says the LIHTC application process is very competitive and there’s no guarantee the housing authority will receive the funding.
A report released last year by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley explains the complexities of the LIHTC program. While it called the program “the most important source of funding for affordable housing in the United States,” it also noted that almost 90% of LIHTC developments in California required weaving together four or more funding sources, increasing costs and often extending project timelines.
These challenges don’t necessarily bode well for Moulton-Peters’ stance that the housing authority’s plan is more secure and expedient. The resident council said their plan, with a mortgage secured by HUD and grants from reputable sources to bridge a financing gap, may have been faster.
Strawberry resident Lori Bamberger, who was formerly the assistant chief of staff at HUD and currently serves as the managing partner at ABK City Advisors, an equitable economic development firm, supports the resident council’s plan for homeownership and self-governance.
Bamberger told the Pacific Sun in an interview that due to Marin’s history of barring Black people from homeownership through racist and discriminatory covenants, it is time to give Golden Gate residents this opportunity.
If the board doesn’t approve of the resident council’s proposed financing, it could explore other options to convert Golden Gate Village to a homeownership model, according to Bamberger, who also emailed her perspective to Moulton-Peters before the vote.
“It just takes a decision to roll up your sleeves and create a viable financing plan,” Bamberger said.
But it appears the Marin Housing Authority and its board may never have intended to seriously consider the housing co-op plan put forth by the resident council. The resident council and their strategy team maintain they weren’t given equal footing during the process.
The housing authority board formed a revitalization working group, giving the residents the same number of seats as the housing authority.
A consultant hired by HUD worked with the group on developing a financing strategy, yet based on numerous memos, reports and presentations generated by the consultant, his time was spent creating the housing authority’s plan, leaving the resident council to find a volunteer to assist them.
“The whole working group was a sham,” McLemore said. “But we’re not done yet. We’re going to keep refining our plan and maybe there’s another lawsuit coming.”