CEO Joanne Webster in Marin IJ: Marin economy needs housing, not excuses
From the Marin Independent Journal, August 9, 2017:
California’s housing crisis is real. According to Department of Housing and Community Development estimates, California must build at least 180,000 units a year to keep pace with demand.
Marin should not be excluded from doing its part.
Levine’s legislation is a pass from building our equitable share and that concerns the San Rafael Chamber. We have a long-standing policy of supporting legislation and reforms that are needed to increase the housing supply, especially in areas where jobs are located. This bill will not help increase housing production.
Affordable housing developers did not support this bill and asked Levine to wait to extend the designation until the report on a previous bill (AB 1537) could be assessed.
Access to housing is one of the greatest issues facing employers and employees in Marin and we need more — not less — housing stock. The No. 1 challenge businesses report is the hiring of new employees to fill vacant positions.
Banks tell us they cannot find tellers, car dealers cannot find mechanics, hotels cannot find sales staff, grocers cannot find clerks, restaurants cannot find chefs and offices cannot find managers.
Even if they are lucky enough to do so, these employees do not stay long; finding and accepting another position closer to home — sometimes even at less pay — to avoid an atrocious commute.
The county government is experiencing this trend as well.
It was recently reported to the chamber that 75 percent of the county’s new hires cannot afford to live in Marin. The county is investing in these new employees; training them, and then they leave the area for another job.
So, the county responded by developing a subsidy program for rental assistance for new hires and help with down payments for new home purchases as well.
We applaud our local elected officials for understanding that if our workforce lived where they work, we would begin to create a greater sense of community.
Even in the “non-urban cluster” of West Marin, communities are feeling the impact. The lack of a local workforce out there is forcing businesses to curb their hours of operation.
The chamber just learned that an iconic restaurant out in Marshall is involuntarily restricting its business; only open Thursday-Sunday, even though there is demand for more. The business basically cannot fill the shifts.
We can point our finger at San Francisco as the solution all we want, and I think we should, but Marin still needs to build more housing.
Unless we do, we’re not growing a sustainable economy, but instead putting our economic future at risk. We’re not filling positions currently available, never mind when our population ages and retires.
Companies will not be able to recruit our younger workforce because they simply cannot afford to live here. The Chamber is concerned that companies in the county will be forced to shut down or relocate where the workers live.
Access to workforce housing is now a necessity for the economic future of Marin. The San Rafael Chamber will continue to fight the fight. We will pressure our elected officials to put “teeth” into housing bills requiring our communities to actually build affordable housing units and not just zone for them.
In Marin, we are proud that our food is locally sourced; we should be proud that our workforce is locally sourced too.
Joanne Webster is president and CEO of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce. The San Rafael Chamber is a member-based business advocacy organization.