A new report by state housing advocates quantifies the woes affecting Sonoma County’s rental market, including how far rents have outpaced incomes.
Sonoma County’s median renter saw wages decline 6 percent from 2000 to 2015, when adjusted for inflation, according to the California Housing Partnership. In the same period, the county’s median rent increased 16 percent.
The gap, derived from U.S. Census data, resulted in a net decline in overall purchasing power of $5,580 for the median renter, whose annual income was $49,921.
The report also highlights an 87 percent decline in state and federal aid for affordable housing in the county during the past seven years, totaling $41 million.
Sonoma County’s decline was the steepest on a percentage basis among the 15 counties studied by the housing partnership, said its president and CEO, Matt Schwartz.
The county continues to lose ground each year when it comes to providing affordable housing, Schwartz said. His group estimated more than 17,000 more subsidized units are needed here to meet the needs of low-income residents.
Without action, he said, “this deficit is going to get worse.”
Those involved in the report acknowledged they hope county residents will be moved to take action to obtain more affordable housing, perhaps even voting for a new housing tax as a dozen California communities have recently approved. Among the housing measures approved last year, said Schwartz, was a $950 million bond program in Santa Clara County and a $580 million bond program in Alameda County.
The housing partnership was created by the state Legislature in 1988 to be an advocate for affordable housing. The group prepared the report in cooperation with the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California.
In recent years, business, civic and elected leaders increasingly have voiced concern about how the county’s shortage of rental and owner-occupied housing is affecting families and the economy. Debate has led to renewed government efforts to prompt more home construction and an attempt in Santa Rosa to implement rent control, with city voters now casting mail-in ballots on such a measure slated for a June 6 vote.
Hannah Scott, director of community engagement at nonprofit housing builder Burbank Housing, said she was excited Schwartz’s group decided to make the county one of four in the Bay Area studied this spring along with Alameda, Contra Costa and San Mateo counties.
Scott said demand for housing is so strong here that if Burbank’s entire portfolio of 2,900 rental units were vacated, “we could fill that tomorrow with our wait list.”
At any time, families representing between 7,000 and 10,000 people are waiting for one of Burbank’s apartments.
Alina Harway, communications director for the Non-Profit Housing Association, said getting more affordable homes built will rely in part on state intervention, either through potential legislation or a state bond in order to make more funds available.
“The No. 1 thing the state can do is reinvest in communities,” she said.
County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who has called for new efforts to build all types of housing, noted that a major source of money was lost here when the state took away redevelopment funds used for housing and other purposes by local jurisdictions. The report calculates that change resulted in a $14.8 million decline for affordable housing in the county in the past seven years.