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Affordable housing first in four major funding initiatives

MARIN COUNTY - After close to two years of strategic planning, the Marin Community Foundation commenced July 1 a completely redesigned funding model, shifting for the first time a majority of discretionary dollars to original projects jointly created by the organization in four primary focus areas.

The plan will begin this month with the purchase of about 20 foreclosed properties that will eventually be transformed into green affordable housing.

"We started this strategic planning with the goal of finding the best way to have the greatest impact. After input from many, many people in the community, we decided that meant better focusing our resources, which did call for some tough decisions," said foundation President Thomas Peters.

"Projects were created through a more interactive process, through work with past partners but focused on new projects influenced by community input and decided upon by the foundation's trustees."

Launched more than 20 years ago through the trust of Leonard and Beryl H. Buck, the foundation has in the past funded a broad range of local organizations through an application process for everything from basic operations to special projects grants. But in an effort to better identify results and garner new contributors, the trustees decided to spend no more than a third on application-driven community grants.

About 60 percent of the fund's $25 million in annual discretionary spending will go to new projects in the four specific areas including affordable housing, carbon footprint reduction, lowering poverty and increasing educational achievement.

The remaining budget will be distributed through community grants focused on efforts in arts education, engaging the public in the arts, increasing access to open space for low-income residents, integrating immigrants into the community, improving health, services for seniors, protecting Marin's ecosystem and fostering social justice.

The organization also distributes another $25 million to $30 million annually from about 300 families that goes directly to groups and projects of the donor's choosing.

The first project for this year's discretionary funding will transform bank-owned properties into affordable housing with about 80 percent less energy use.

NorthBay Family Homes President and Chief Executive Officer Clark Blasdell, who is helping to coordinate the effort with the foundation, said his organization has been tracking about 200 homes for possible purchase during the last year and will begin the transactions this month.

Each home will then go through a four- to six-week evaluation, where those needing the most work will be transferred to Habitat for Humanity families, who are required to spend at least 500 hours working on the home. Families between two and five members with wages of about 60 to 80 percent of the area's median income will be eligible for the housing.

Other organizations involved in the housing piece include the Greenbelt Alliance, the Nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California, the Marin Housing Authority and County Supervisor Steve Kinsey.

The foreclosed home project is part of several planned under the $10-million, five-year affordable housing initiative. At the same time, the foundation is funding a city-by-city affordable housing evaluation, looking at where possible homes could be placed and how policies in that city could be changed to move those developments forward.

Other efforts include developing new low-income rental units, affordable housing for seniors, homelessness prevention and access to safe accommodations for the area's agricultural workers.

Dr. Peters said the foundation will announce the five-year plans for the other three major initiatives over the course of the next six to eight weeks. Similar to the affordable housing piece, they will work with partners they have worked with before, but on new projects identified through collaboration that focus on achieving "clearly defined outcomes."

The community grants in the other nine focus areas will be awarded in a similar process as the former funding model. Dr. Peters said because the new fiscal year just started July 1, it is not yet clear how many organizations will no longer receive funding or which will receive less funding.

"We are still committed to funding a range of areas and emphasize there is not one dollar less going to work in Marin. Who will do the work will depend, however, on how clearly they can define results and impact," he said.

The Marin Community Foundation has invested more than $800 million in its history and it currently has assets of about $1 billion.