In moves aimed at blunting the impacts of Santa Rosa’s housing crunch, the City Council took steps Tuesday to both preserve the supply of affordable housing and to expand services to the homeless, including on city properties.
The council opted to stand by the rent control ordinance it passed in August but which has been blocked by a petition drive. Instead of repealing the law, which seeks to cap many rent increases at 3 percent per year and provide other renter protections, the council opted for a special election June 6 to let the people decide the matter.
Councilwoman Julie Combs said the previous council passed rent control to help renters, but “outside money” from the California Apartment Association, which represents property owners, “froze our ordinance.”
“I am looking forward to moving to ask our voters to defrost that ordinance so we can move forward and have the fair and affordable rental housing that our residents deserve,” Combs said.
The move came following the urging of a number of rent control supporters, including Santa Rosa Junior College student Courtney Cox, 22.
“We fought very hard, but all we got in return because of the (California) Apartment Association, was landlord retaliation in the form of rent increases, evictions, harassment and intimidation,” Cox said.
The measure will likely be on the same ballot as a proposal to tax cannabis on which the council has yet to act. Special election is expected to cost the city about $493,515.
The second step the council took was to broaden efforts to help create more places to shelter the homeless, especially during the winter.
The council agreed to several changes to improve the effectiveness of the Community Housing Assistance Program, which allows groups with properties zoned as “meeting facilities” to let people sleep overnight in their cars or camp on their properties under organized programs
One key change was to add commercial properties to that list. Another was to have the city assist applicants in reaching out to neighborhoods. This was an acknowledgment that the first applicant seeking to establish such a legal encampment, the First United Methodist Church, ran into strong opposition from neighbors of its Stony Point Road campus, in part because its outreach was ineffective.
The other steps the council took, which could prove most costly and controversial, were to instruct staff to explore expanding homeless services in several ways, including adding five portable classrooms to its Sam Jones Hall shelter in the city’s southwest area.
Doing so was expected to have startup costs of up to $50,000 and house an additional 100 people during the winter months. It was unclear how quickly this could be accomplished, but city officials said they’ve already identified the classrooms the school district wants moved.
Another measure the council endorsed was increasing the amount the city spends on rapid rehousing efforts. An additional $125,000 could temporarily house an additional 25 to 30 people, said Dave Gouin, the city’s director of Housing and Community Services.
Jennielynn Holmes, Catholic Charities’ director of shelter and housing, said the city’s rapid-rehousing program, which her organization runs, is very successful, resulting in 96 percent of the people who are placed in permanent housing remaining there after a year.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here