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Wondering what you can afford?

The PD's real estate blogger dug into the listings and found what you can rent for less than $1,500/month in Sonoma County here and what you can rent for less that $2,500/month here

Skyrocketing rents have put an increasing number of people on the move, often with nowhere to land.

Sonoma County’s housing squeeze has left a lot of people priced out of their homes or evicted. For every affordable — and not so affordable — house, apartment or granny unit that comes on the market there’s often a long line of desperate applicants. The county’s average apartment rents for $1,792 a month, a jump of 48 percent in five years. The average two-bedroom, two-bath unit is $2,080, nearly 50 percent more than five years ago. Even people who are working full time may not meet the minimum income requirements.

Those who do manage to score a place may find themselves in tighter quarters or feeling like displaced persons forced to leave their communities for cheaper rent elsewhere.

For everyone in line there is a story and complicating factors, from proximity to work to poor credit to pets.

Here are a few stories from the front lines.

Who: Danelle Jarzynski, 27

Housing dilemma: Jarzynski and her fiancé, Litten Alley, are both sous chefs who work long hours and get standard industry pay, which is relatively low. For several years, they had been renting a 610-square-foot, one-bedroom house on North Street in Healdsburg for $1,200 a month that was within walking distance of Jarzinski’s cooking job at Scopa restaurant (Litten works at the Mayacama private club in Santa Rosa.) Their landlord put the house on the market in June, and the pair gave their 30-day notice soon afterward because they felt uncomfortable having the real estate agent showing the house, with their two dogs and cats living there. They tried to buy the home, but the price was nearly $700,000 — out of their price range.

Challenge: The couple had only a month to find an affordable home (under $2,000) to rent that had enough room for — and would accept — their four pets. “The search proved to be way harder than we thought,” Jarzinski said. “We moved into the new house on Aug. 1, the day our lease was up at the old house ... It was the last possible second.”

The couple were considering living anywhere from Santa Rosa to Guerneville and Cloverdale and were looking for something in the same price range but could not find anything for less than $1,800.

They lost the first three places they tried to rent, then heard from a neighbor about a small home for rent about 200 feet away from their Healdsburg rental. That place had so much water damage, however, that it was not ready to rent. Their hopes were dashed.

Next, they looked at a Windsor condo, but with the homeowner’s association fee tacked onto the rent, it would cost more than $2,000 a month. Then they looked at a tiny, 300-square-foot granny unit on top of a garage in Healdsburg that was renting for $1,750. “It was a funny option, but it was the only one at that point,” Jarzynski said.

One day before their lease expired, she was looking at Craigslist at midnight and found a three-bedroom house for rent in Cloverdale for $1,850 that welcomed pets. It also had front and back yards for their two dogs: a husky mix and a sheltie mix.

“I was so excited,” Danelle said. “No one says pets OK ... the landlord was super nice, and she knew someone who works at Scopa.”

The couple put down about $4,000 for the first month rent and security deposits, then moved their stuff into the rental house and were able to go on a planned vacation with family members a few days later.

While the rent at the new home leaves them with little discretionary income, they are happy to be able to provide a good home for their pets.

“Even now, when the first of the month comes around, the paycheck is gone,” Jarzynski said. “But it’s a comfortable spot and I’m glad we have a roof over our heads.”


Who: Jayantii Lawless, 39

Housing dilemma: Lawless, a part-time leadership and mindfulness coach; her husband, Karmendra Rossy, 40, an ecological landscape designer and landscaper, and their daughter, Atira, 2, lived on a 20-acre organic farm near Sebastopol, shared by several households, for five years until the property was sold and new tenants moved in. Buying a home is not within their reach now.

Since August, they have searched in vain for a two-bedroom house to rent, preferably in the west Sonoma County area. They have stayed with a series of friends — “couch surfing,” as Lawless puts it. The family’s longest stay at one place was for two months, during September and October, with another family in a two-bedroom house.

“We’ve packed up our bags and moved all our stuff six times since August. It takes a lot of energy each time. We’re staying at a different place every week in November,” she said.

“Every time we didn’t have a place to stay, we put it out there to our community and someone would offer us a place. There has been a lot of generosity, and of course we share the costs. It has been been deeply touching.”

Challenge: The family has been unable to find a rental within its budget, which Lawless calculates at $2,200 per month. “If we could go up to $3,000, we could find a home. No problem,” she said.

“We have been to open houses and seen places that are so tiny that we wouldn’t be able to grow into it. We want to have another child.” Lawless said. “Some of the places have been disgusting. When you walk into the house, you can smell the mold.”

The biggest challenge for Lawless and Rossy has been maintaining a stable environment for their young daughter.

“It’s unsettling for her. She’ll often wake up crying at night when we’re in a new place, not knowing where she is. It takes a lot of comforting to support her,” Lawless said.

The family continues to search for a suitable rental and still hopes to find the right place to settle, despite a current economic climate in which many families face a similar dilemma.

“At the open houses, there are 20 to 40 people showing up,” Lawless said. “We’ve filled out forms, and we’ve paid for the $30 background checks, and we haven’t heard back from places. We go to stay active and see what’s out there. We created a website for our search, posted fliers up everywhere and put ads up on local messenger boards, as well as using Craigslist. We haven’t seen our home yet.”


Who: Kaily Russell, 28

Housing dilemma: The full-time Santa Rosa Junior College student was homeless for a couple of months before renting a room in mid-October. Russell found a room in the city of Sonoma for $300 a month, but she still finds herself scrambling to have enough money for food.

“Luckily the college gives out free food on Wednesdays and I’ve tried applying for food stamps, but they don’t give me much,” she said. “I manage somehow.”

Russell said SRJC English professor Michael Hale has estimated that there are 800 homeless students at the junior college.

With a part-time job at a movie theater, Russell is allotted an uncertain number of hours each week. She was looking for rooms to rent for $400 a month or less. However, most of the rooms for rent Russell found were in the $650 to $1000-range, with a split in utilities on top of that.

Challenge: Russell tried to get a second job, but then she realized it would just be too exhausting while taking a full load of classes.

“I did some couch hopping from friends and I slept in my car a few times which wasn’t fun because I had so much stuff in my car,” Russell explained. “I’d go to Starbucks and McDonald’s in the morning. I really felt like giving up for the first time in a long time.”

To study, Russell would go to Starbucks or the public library, where she would use its printer.

“Getting through it, I just told myself that I’m almost done and I had to keep fighting because I don’t give up anymore, and others have it much worse than I do,” Russell said.

Today Russell said her struggle has opened her eyes to the plight of the homeless, and it has made her stronger.

“I want to volunteer at some homeless shelters,” Russell said, “and give back.”


Who: Debbie Siegel, 56

Housing dilemma: A home-based daycare provider, Siegel was forced out of the three-bedroom home with backyard that she had rented in Healdsburg for many years after the owners abruptly decided to sell. She came home from a vacation in 2014 to a 30-day eviction notice on the counter.

“I thought it was a thank-you card,” said Siegel, a single mother of three whose youngest was finishing up at Healdsburg High. “I didn’t sleep that night. It was the scariest feeling of ‘What am I going to do?’ ”

Siegel had a double dilemma. She was dependent on the home not only for shelter but for her income. She had invested in improvements to the home and yard to make it safe and welcoming for children. With a $3,000 grant from First Five of California, she turned the front yard into a learning garden. She said she had been honored by the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County. Her child care clients were all in Healdsburg.

But she couldn’t find anything she could afford in the upscale town where the cost of housing has skyrocketed. Compounding the problem was the fact that without her home for daycare, she had no steady income.

She found a place for $2,100 on a ranch just outside town, paying for it with cash advances on her credit card. At the same time she scrambled to patch together a living offering child care in other people’s homes. But the landlord, who lived on the property, proved difficult and unstable. After fruitlessly searching for a place in Healdsburg, Siegel defaulted to a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Rosa, for which she pays $1,450 a month. Her 19-year-old son sleeps in the living room.

Challenge: Siegel appreciates having a roof over her head. But she misses Healdsburg. It was her home for 25 years. It was where she raised her family. She was involved in local causes, like being a member of the Friends of Lake Sonoma and working the Steelhead Festival. Her heart aches to get back “home” to Healdsburg.

Siegel said many of her clients have been supportive. She has a stable job 35 hours a week as an in-home child caregiver in Healdsburg, commuting daily in her 2005 Jeep. Her son juggles a couple of jobs, commuting to Healdsburg in a 1987 Volvo.

Siegel picks up extra money making organic soaps under her own label, Blue Father Organics. And even though she has almost an 800 FICO score, she said she doesn’t make enough to meet the income requirements for a rental in Healdsburg.

But she hasn’t given up. She said she’s diligently paying off the debt incurred when she was living at the ranch and keeping the faith. She’s thinking of other options, like moving to Geyserville or Cloverdale, or her bigger dream, which is to buy a houseboat and live on it.

“Every day I look on Craigslist and some other search sites. But it’s hard to find a place. They list something and when I call they already have 50 candidates. I can’t compete anymore. I work in early childhood education. It’s difficult to make ends meet in Headlsburg, and yet that’s where my kids grew up. We think about it and talk about it every single day. Everything was totally thrown out of synch in my life. Now we’re recalibrating what to do after losing everything we knew and believed in and put our love and energy into. But I’m not giving up hope we can have a place in Healdsburg. I’m trying to find my way back.”

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