In the pricey real estate enclave of Healdsburg, residents are getting their chance to give city officials their ideas for creating more affordable housing.
Healdsburg's success as a Wine Country tourist destination is one factor driving up housing prices, and residents are calling for "workforce housing" for restaurant and hotel workers, as well as school teachers, public safety workers and others who provide vital services to the community of 11,500 people.
A recent public workshop on housing issues identified a shortage of rental units in Healdsburg, a lack off diverse housing types and the impact of second homes and vacation rentals.
Participants said that buyers of second homes are driving up prices and competing with permanent residents for a limited supply of homes.
Locals will get to sound off again Wednesday at a second workshop on the city's draft "housing element" of the general plan, which the state requires cities to revise on a regular basis.
The workshop, which will be held from 6 to 8 p.m at the Healdsburg Community Center, is intended to help formulate the city's housing goals and policies through 2023.
"I think we need more housing in Healdsburg," said City Councilman Shaun McCaffery, who added that the city is limited by a voter-approved growth-management ordinance that restricts the number of new homes to an average of 30 or less annually.
Even though construction of low- and very-low income homes are exempt from the growth ordinance, McCaffery said it makes it tough to build workforce housing.
"When you have a development of any size, you need to build lots of houses at the same time to get an economic benefit of scale," he said.
McCaffery is in favor of a November ballot measure that would loosen up the growth control restriction.
Overall, 510 new dwelling units would be allowed over 15 years. That compares to 450 that would be allowed in that same period under the current ordinance.
He said it will help create more housing and not just hotels and retail, particularly in central Healdsburg as that area develops.
Like other Sonoma County communities, real estate prices have been on the rise in Healdsburg since 2011, which now has the highest median housing price of any city in the county, other than Sebastopol.
The draft housing element states that as of May, the median sales price for existing and new homes in Healdsburg was $515,000 and $613,500 respectively, according to DataQuick .
"A major portion of demand comes from those looking for vacation homes that can ultimately become a retirement residence," states the draft document, which is available at www.ci.healdsburg.ca.us.
Vacancy rates in the rental market are extremely low or nonexistent, according to the study.
Participants in the previous workshop suggested providing incentives for rental units and multifamily units; allowing increased densities for multifamily housing; exploring creative financing models; and advocating for state funding for affordable housing.
Some participants said the city also needs to enforce existing regulations that prohibit short-term vacation rentals — to keep locals from being squeezed out even more.
Healdsburg Project Planner Jesse Brown said the Planning Commission and the City Council are expected to consider the housing element next month in a joint meeting before submitting it to the state. In October, there will be another public hearing, according to the tentative time line, followed by environmental review and City Council adoption in December.