The elimination in 2011 of redevelopment agencies pretty much sealed the fate of the affordable housing programs that Rohnert Park had subsidized for more than a decade.

The city used other funds to support the programs in 2012, but that was a stopgap measure.

And by this month, five city-owned houses that have provided a home to hundreds of formerly homeless families while they got back on their feet were empty, the residents resettled into other housing around the county.

Now Rohnert Park and Committee on the Shelterless, the large, Petaluma-based nonprofit that ran the transitional housing programs, are trying to convince Sonoma County to take the houses off the city's hands so that the programs can be revived.

That's the best shot at making sure the function is fulfilled while the city concentrates on building a stable financial base, said Linda Babonis, who formerly oversaw redevelopment funds and now is the city economic development manager.

"This is about getting out of the affordable housing business and putting it in the hands of trained professionals who can maximize the resources available, and the benefit to the low- and moderate-income citizens in Rohnert Park," Babonis said.

Starting in 1999, the city gave Committee on the Shelterless, or COTS, as much as $155,000 a year plus staff time to run the programs, effectively making up the difference between operating costs and the low rents that residents were asked to pay.

The new proposal essentially is for the county Community Development Commission's Regional Housing Authority to take ownership of the homes along with their potential liabilities and maintenance and insurance responsibilities.

Then COTS would reinstate some sort of new housing program so the properties would generate enough revenue to make the deal cost effective for the county.

"It's not clear whether we would do a family program again or not," said Mike Johnson, COTS' chief operating officer. "We'd like to but it may not be fiscally feasible because the rental income from one family (per house) as opposed to three or four single adults would be much less," he said.

"We're hoping the county would be open to the idea and we can work out the details later," he said.

County officials examining the proposal said they support the objective. "We would love to see those five houses stay in some affordable housing use," said Kathleen Kane, executive director of the Community Development Commission.

The question is whether it works financially, she said — and as yet, it's not clear how it would.

"The problem is they have absolutely no money to go along with the houses," said Redevelopment Manager John Haig. "We haven't seen that there's a positive cash flow."

He said it will likely take 35 to 40 days before he knows whether the proposal is feasible, at which point it could be taken to the Board of Supervisors.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or