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Work begins on controversial housing project in Marin County

Marin City community says it worries latest housing project will accelerate gentrification
Marin City community says it worries latest housing project will accelerate gentrification 03:28

MARIN CITY — A Marin City community said it is worried a housing project will accelerate gentrification and push out people of color.

Bettie Hodges' parents migrated to Marin City during World War 2 to find work in the neighboring shipyard. Now, she's fighting to stop an approved 74-unit apartment complex from being built across the street from her childhood home.

"People came here from the South looking for opportunity. They didn't realize they were going to have to fight for their rights to remain here," said Hodges.

Demolition is underway at 825 Drake after a year of protest, and residents fear the influx of hundreds of new dwellers will accelerate gentrification and push people of color out.

"It's a fight for power because Marin City has never had control over its own destiny," said Hodges. 

"Property values are so high now there's no property at this point that's bought by a person of color and that's too bad," said Marilyn Mackey of Save Our City, a grassroots organization formed to stop the project. 

Pushback against high-density housing abounds across the state.

Save our City said it is not against affordable housing initiatives, but argues the majority of the county's public housing is already concentrated in Marin City and not considering public input is wrong.

"We want to make sure that not just affordable housing comes here but the kind of housing that will support people who already live here," said Hodges. 

"Don't do things without the community of people who live here and are concerned about what happens here. It's a simple solution. Nothing without us," added Mackey. 

Senate Bill 35, which became law in 2018, makes it easier for certain housing projects to be approved in urban areas without public input or environmental review, leaving the Marin County Community Development Agency no other option. 

"The county did approve the project. We were required to do so under state law," said Marin County Development Agency Director Sarah Jones. 

"We've had a few years of the tool, and we've seen where it works. We're seeing where there's some discomfort. How can we make it better," said Abram Diaz. 

Diaz of the nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California said an amendment to the law through SB 423 will allow for communities of high segregation and low resources in the future to have a stronger voice. 

But he still believes more housing for all is the solution especially for those who can least afford it.  

"We have not built enough housing over the last few decades. So, now we're trying to flip the equation," said Diaz. 

Save Our City argues they're being forced to accept a massive project to help the county meet housing requirements under state law.

"I don't think we can recover as a community and be the community that my parents and ancestors wanted Marin City to be," said Hodges. 

The county says there are three other ongoing SB 35 projects within the county, but that 825 Drake is the only one in an unincorporated area.

The Main Housing Authority confirmed 60% of the county's public housing is in Marin City.

State Senator Scott Weiner's office said he was unavailable after multiple attempts to talk about SB35's impact on Marin City residents.

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