Sonoma County voters may be asked this fall to support a massive housing bond aimed at solving a housing crisis exacerbated by the devastating October wildfires.
Details of the proposed measure are still being worked out, but supporters are suggesting a number north of $300 million would be needed to make a sizable dent in the shortage of affordable housing in the county.
“If this county does not pass an affordable housing bond now, I don’t think it ever will,” said Santa Rosa City Councilman Jack Tibbetts. “I think that will say a lot about who we are as a community.”
Tibbetts, who has emerged as a leader in the effort, said he’s eying a number between $300 million and $400 million. A survey conducted in July and again in January used $370 million.
The local proposal comes as California voters this November face a decision on a $4 billion housing bond meant to fund low-income developments and subsidize home loans for California veterans.
Various Bay Area counties have passed housing bonds of their own in recent years. In 2016 alone, voter-approved measures in Santa Clara, Alameda and San Francisco authorized up to $950 million, $580 million and $261 million for affordable housing, respectively.
The housing crisis that preceded the fires in Sonoma County has only deepened in their wake, with nearly 5,300 homes destroyed, a 1 percent vacancy rate effectively plunging to zero and the median single-family home now selling for $670,000.
Proponents of a local “housing recovery bond” have been meeting often in recent weeks, aware that they’ll need to get support from county supervisors in coming months to get the issue on the November ballot.
The group, which has about $30,000 in donations and a dozen community leaders on its executive committee, held a public meeting two weeks ago attended by about 50 people in Roseland. Draft ballot language is in the works, and should be out in coming weeks or sooner, Tibbetts said.
Peter Rumble, the new executive director of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce, said his organization hasn’t taken a position on the bond, but wants him at the table as it is crafted to make sure it’s something they can support.
“I don’t think there is any question at all that we need some additional money going into housing in our community,” Rumble said.
An infusion of tax dollars is part of the solution, Rumble said. Others include shortening the regulatory process for housing developments, increasing the certainty for builders in that process, focusing projects on the downtown core and transit areas, and the support of elected officials, he said.
A bond is the fastest, most powerful tool available to raise the money needed to get enough needed projects underway, Tibbetts said. That’s because the local money can then be used to leverage current and future state dollars, including funds from the proposed $4 billion state housing bond, he said.
In many cases $1 in local funds can be leveraged for three times that much in federal tax credits, said Larry Florin, chief executive officer of Burbank Housing, the area’s largest affordable housing builder.