It could take construction of more than 3,000 homes over a five-year period to make an appreciable dent in Sonoma County’s historically tight housing market, but regional leaders think they can get there by taking an aggressive and focused approach toward development starting this year.
As many as 1,375 housing units could be built on county-owned land in the Santa Rosa area, and an additional 2,000 units could be developed on other sites by 2022 under visions put forward by local officials to address the area’s persistently tight housing market.
Such a boost in supply could ease the strain on renters, doubling or tripling the rock bottom vacancy rate, and substantially slow the pace of rent inflation, one of the biggest concerns in the county’s extensive housing crisis.
Failure to make real inroads in the housing crisis could hobble employers across the public and private sector because too many prospective workers won’t be able to afford living in the area, said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who represents central Santa Rosa.
“It is a real issue. We do have to be strong and stand up and say it is time that we build sufficient housing for everybody, because we won’t have schoolteachers, we won’t have health care workers, we won’t have people to take care of seniors if we don’t do something about it,” Zane, the Board of Supervisors chairwoman, told her colleagues on Tuesday.
The board approved its ambitious housing goal as part of a broader plan encompassing the top policy priorities supervisors want to focus on this year. Their platform also includes sustained safety-net and road funding.
But it was the local moonshot on housing that stirred some of the most passionate remarks Tuesday from supervisors. As is, the five-year goal doesn’t begin to rival the county’s pre-recession building boom, when contractors added 18,000 houses, apartments and condominiums from 2000 to 2008, according to the state Department of Finance.
“There is no easy answer here,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, who said local governments must do more to encourage development through changes in regulations and fees.
“All I know is that we need to continue to hold people accountable when those projects come before cities — or even the county — to really look for the best and quickest solution to get that housing in the ground,” said Rabbitt, an architect and former Petaluma councilman.
Supervisors have made already embarked on a concerted push to expand housing supply, with their biggest plan in motion to sell 82 acres of county-owned land in the northeast Santa Rosa hills to a developer who wants to build as many as 800 housing units there. Sale of the Chanate Road land, site of the former Sutter Medical Center, is expected to close within a few months, after which the project will need to pass through the city of Santa Rosa’s planning process.
County officials think they also might be able to add a total of 575 additional units on three other public properties around Santa Rosa, including the county Community Development Commission-owned Roseland Village shopping center on Sebastopol Road, where plans to create a mixed use development with 175 housing units are moving forward.
Other public sites that may eventually host housing developments include the county’s administrative complex in northern Santa Rosa and land on College Avenue owned by the Sonoma County Water Agency. The latter site may soon come before supervisors for “new and exciting opportunities” for redevelopment, said Margaret Van Vliet, executive director of the Community Development Commission.