Should your favorite grocery clerks at Mill Valley Market be able to live in our community if they want to? How about our firefighters, teachers and police officers? If the answer’s yes, how do we go about making that happen?

That work – identifying short-, medium- and long-term strategies to make sure that those vital contributors to our community can live here – has been a major focus of the City of Mill Valley in recent years, and the long-overdue, much-needed conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion in town have raised the stakes even more in recent months. 

​On Sept. 8, the City Council approved a program that seeks to take a step in the right direction, signing a $150,000 agreement with ​Covia, a Walnut Creek-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to “promote and cultivate healthy communities for positive aging,” to create “House Mill Valley,” a program that would match residents with more house than they need with people looking for more affordable housing opportunities than Mill Valley currently offers.

“This is a lovely effort that the city is taking on here to find room in our existing housing stock and create smaller opportunities,” Vice Mayor John McCauley said. 

In 2017, the council hosted an affordable housing summit and backed an affordable housing ordinance that includes a 1 percent City fee to be applied to all new housing projects and remodels costing $100,000 or more. City officials say the fee could generate approximately $375,000 annually, with revenue going into an affordable housing trust fund. The options on how to deploy that funding include acquiring properties, building multi-unit projects, renovating existing developments or finding ways to subsidize rental rates for workforce housing.

“It’s almost like a dating service but for housing, not for romance,” said Karen Coppick, who directs the Home Match program for Covia. “The main thing that we do is connect people seeking affordable housing with people who have more house than they need.”

Covia’s “House Mill Valley” program is one such use. In March 2020, the council approved its guidelines for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, establishing the priorities for the use, distribution, and expenditure of trust fund proceeds. Those five priorities, listed here, include “projects that leverage existing, underutilized housing stock to create more affordable housing rental opportunities, such as a home match program (connecting homeowners with local community members interested in housing).”

“There’s no grand slam when it comes to housing in Mill Valley,” Councilmember Urban Carmel said. “We are hitting singles on this year after year. It costs a million bucks to do one big unit of affordable housing. We’ll do these for $10,000 each. If you have room in for you house or know someone who does, here is an opportunity for everybody to make a difference in your community.”

“Our program is all about reciprocal bonds,” Coppock said. “It’s not an old, lonely or poor person matched with a low-income person that needs help. The relationships are really lovely. We look for both sides to benefit and for this to be a very positive experience for all involved.”