The Golden Gate Village Resident Council presented a plan to revitalize the neglected 61-year-old public housing project in Marin City to the Marin Housing Authority Board of Commissioners last week.
The renovations are long past due because the Marin Housing Authority has deferred maintenance at the county’s largest public housing development for years and dragged their feet on implementing a rehabilitation plan. Last year, due to repeated “failing or near failing physical scores” at Golden Gate Village, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stepped in to require the housing authority to submit a corrective action plan, including a timeline to improve the complex.
Royce McLemore, president of the resident council, told the board in her Jan. 25 presentation that the resident plan addresses unsafe conditions, “including severe pest infestations, black mold, leaky plumbing, faulty wiring and lack of heat.”
The backbone of the plan for the 300-unit development, which houses 700 predominantly Black adults and children, reflects the residents’ desire to maintain the complex’s status in the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike another plan considered by the Marin Housing Authority for the last few years, the residents’ proposal does not include the demolition of any buildings, nor does it call for any new construction on the sprawling 32-acre property.
The resident council has worked on its ideas for revitalization since 2013 and later enlisted the assistance of a volunteer strategy team. However, the housing authority largely ignored their efforts. Last year, the council brought in three consultants to provide a more formal proposal. While much of the work was done pro bono, the council invested more than $56,000 for the plan. The consultants also presented to the housing authority board.
A historic structure report, the industry standard for planning the preservation of a historic site, was prepared by Architectural Resources Group. The report reviewed existing conditions at Golden Gate Village and offered treatment recommendations. The buildings are in overall fair condition, with most issues caused by deferred maintenance and misguided improvements. The scope of work necessary to bring Golden Gate Village back to its former glory fills almost three pages.
Sustainability is a key component of the residents’ revitalization proposal. Their suggestions focus on energy efficiency, water conserving fixtures and onsite energy generation using solar power. Arup, an international engineering and design firm, conducted a deep green study of the existing high rise buildings at Golden Gate Village and found that energy use could be cut in half through efficiency and electrification, such as replacing the gas-fired boilers and water heaters with electric heat pumps.
The original landscaping, terraces and play areas at Golden Gate Village were designed by famed landscape architect Lawrence Halprin. With the goal of returning the landscaping to Halprin’s vision, the council turned to Gary Roth of Roth/LaMotte Landscape Architecture in Fairfax, who spent 10 years working with Halprin. Roth prioritizes the restoration of the public spaces in the complex, giving residents the opportunity to socialize outdoors.
In addition to the rehabilitation of the buildings and landscaping, McLemore outlined a program to allow residents to build equity in Golden Gate Village through a Limited Equity Housing Co-Op. The buildings and land would be transferred to the LEHC, and the resident council would serve as the governing board. Tenants would become shareholders in the LEHC, building equity and the right to pass on their homes to heirs. Even if Golden Gate Village became a co-op, it would stay within the HUD platform for Section 8 housing.
Overhousing, the HUD term referring to residents who live in units where the number of bedrooms exceeds the size of the family, is also covered by the resident council plan. According to HUD, 72 units—about a quarter of the total units at Golden Gate Village—are overhoused, a problem which must be corrected. McLemore said some residents underreport how many people live in an apartment, and a simple solution is to place everyone on the lease. Residents who are living in truly overhoused units and do not want to leave the community could move to the Summit Apartments in Marin City, McLemore said. Alternatively, the housing authority could buy another property in Marin City to build additional housing.
Although McLemore didn’t provide cost estimates for the project, the plan lists more than 20 financing resources, primarily federal and private grants. At the conclusion of the presentation, the board, which is composed of the five members of the Marin County Board of Supervisors and two members who either reside in public housing or hold a Section 8 housing voucher, questioned McLemore about funding. Golden Gate Village volunteer Diane Hanna, a land use attorney, jumped in to answer that if Marin County and the Marin Housing Authority sign on to the plan, more funds will become available.
Board members raised other concerns, too. Some rents may rise by adding people to the lease, since the total income of a unit determines the rate paid. No seismic evaluation of the buildings was conducted. Where will residents live during the renovation? The consultants and volunteers responded to the issues put forth by the board.
“The resident council gave the housing authority an incredible gift with their plan,” Barbara Bogard, a Golden Gate Village volunteer, said. “A huge amount of work was provided, but we know more needs to be done. Now, let’s work together to figure out how to implement the plan.”
It may be a gift the agency desperately needs. So far, the housing authority hasn’t met the timeline deadlines it submitted to HUD, according to Bogard. Tasks scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of last year, such as conducting resident workshops to discuss at least three revitalization options, have not yet begun. The preferred option is scheduled to be submitted to HUD at the end of March.
Even with deadlines looming and McLemore’s request that the board choose the resident council’s plan as the preferred option, the commissioners decided to start a working group to further study the plan. Stephanie Moulton-Peters, the supervisor representing Southern Marin, expects to be a member of the working group.
“I’d like to see a task force or committee that includes the resident council and their team, some community leaders and maybe some technical experts—a group that can help go through all of the issues together,” Moulton-Peters said in an interview. “Maybe we’ll consider a facilitated process.”
Kimberly Carroll, who was named interim executive director of the housing authority last week, echoed Moulton-Peters thoughts about a collaborative effort in an email. The community support for the resident council’s plan also impressed Carroll. Approximately 200 people virtually attended the board meeting, and about a third of them stayed through the lengthy meeting to make public comments advocating for the plan.
Although the housing authority had been working for several years on a revitalization plan that included new buildings on the site, Carroll indicated the agency has reconsidered since the Golden Gate Village community is opposed to it.
“We are focused on improving the living conditions and amenities within the existing structures,” Carroll said.
Read the Golden Gate Village Resident Council’s full plan here.