Marin County is one of the most expensive places to live in the Bay Area, which in turn is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Unless you live in an anchor-out, that is—then your housing costs are practically nil. Anchor-outs are boats that people are living illegally off the coast of Sausalito, and they are not without controversy.
This 2012 Smithsonian Magazine piece addresses the checkered history of Sausalito's houseboat community, which includes both the anchor-out boats and those moored on the docks ...
During the 1950s and ‘60s, as the Beats gave way to the hippies, the chance to construct rent-free homes out of abandoned boats and flotsam was a siren song that drew a spectrum of characters. Some were working artists ... who bought and improved old boats. There were also musicians, drug dealers, misfits and other fringe-dwellers. The waterfront swelled into a community of squatters who, as [houseboat resident and Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart] Brand puts it, “had more nerve than money ...." Through the early 1970s, the Sausalito houseboat scene was a sort of anarchist commune.
A conflict with land interests ensued, and a "long and ugly battle known as The Houseboat Wars" followed, in which "ultimately, the developers more or less prevailed."
While hundreds of houseboats are currently docked at Sausalito's harbor, since the recession in 2007 the number of anchor-outs beyond those moorings has grown from about 100 to 150. I went out recently to visit one of the oldest members of this community, Ale Ekstrom, who's been living on an anchor-out for more than 50 years. The Marin Independent Journal calls him "the grandfather of Sausalito's storied anchor-outs."