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Where does Santa Rosa’s $2.75 million for affordable housing go?

Acacia Village: $1.1 million loan; 6 for-sale units; 120 percent of average median income, or AMI; $189,092 per unit.

Benton Veteran’s Village: $895,448 loan; 7 rental units for veterans; 30 percent of AMI for 6 units, 60 percent of AMI for manager; $127,921 per unit

Stonehouse Family Housing: $500,000 loan; 20 rental units for women who’ve completed treatment; 30 percent of AMI; $25,000 per unit.

Harris Village: $220,000 loan; 4 for sale units on West Steele Lane; 80 percent of AMI; $55,000 per unit.


The campaign against rent control in Santa Rosa went to great expense to remind voters that the disputed policy — the first of its kind in Sonoma County — wouldn’t create affordable housing, which was technically true.

The goal of rent control was to preserve the city’s existing stock of affordable housing while it worked on ways to build new market-rate and affordable housing.

The city’s ambitious Housing Action Plan seeks to build 5,000 new housing units, half of which would be affordable, by 2023.

Overwhelmed in the election rhetoric, however, was a less-noticed but significant step the City Council took last month authorizing incentives for the development of sorely needed affordable housing.

The council approved spending $2.75 million to subsidize 37 affordable units in four upcoming development projects. The spending represents the city’s most aggressive step since the end of redevelopment efforts in 2012 to directly address the housing crisis by spurring the construction of new affordable housing.

“What we were hoping to see was a wide range of ideas come forward from developers at different stages in the process,” said David Guhin, director of the city’s Planning and Economic Development department. “We wanted to know how they could use the funds to produce affordable units that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

The council dangled up to $3 million before developers last fall through what it called the Affordable Housing Incentive Fund Pilot Program. The city received eight proposals requesting $16 million in subsidies to build a total of 306 affordable units.

Since the city didn’t have that kind of cash, it focused on the projects that would provide the most units, to the lowest income people, for the longest period of time, for the least money.

After months of analysis, it settled on four very different projects, from apartments for homeless veterans to single-family homes that would have been otherwise out of reach for moderate-income families.

“I think that the selection shows the range of needs in the community,” said Frank Kasimov, a housing program specialist for the city.

The largest subsidy, $1.1 million, went to Acacia Village, a proposed 25-unit development on Acacia Lane in northeast Santa Rosa. The project by Campus Properties, LLC, would create six for-sale homes that would be sold to people making less than 120 percent of the area median income, which is $82,600 for a family of four.

Owners would enjoy the ability to build equity in the homes, but 55-year resale restrictions would ensure the homes could only to be sold to people in a similar income bracket.

The project is novel because the funding is a $1.1 million forgivable loan meant to pay for the installation of utilities and the construction of streets and sidewalks, which the area lacks today. That section of Acacia Lane off Highway 12 is a dirt road.

“The cost of infrastructure is a big hurdle sometimes to the cost of housing projects,” Guhin said.

The second project to win funding couldn’t be more different. It’s the Benton Veterans Village. The project by Community Housing Sonoma County would transform the former city fire station on Benton Avenue, site of a former food bank, into six rental units for vets considered extremely low income, or 30 percent of the median income. A manager’s unit would also rent to someone making 60 percent of the median.

Where does Santa Rosa’s $2.75 million for affordable housing go?

Acacia Village: $1.1 million loan; 6 for-sale units; 120 percent of average median income, or AMI; $189,092 per unit.

Benton Veteran’s Village: $895,448 loan; 7 rental units for veterans; 30 percent of AMI for 6 units, 60 percent of AMI for manager; $127,921 per unit

Stonehouse Family Housing: $500,000 loan; 20 rental units for women who’ve completed treatment; 30 percent of AMI; $25,000 per unit.

Harris Village: $220,000 loan; 4 for sale units on West Steele Lane; 80 percent of AMI; $55,000 per unit.

The $895,448 loan, which is deferrable until the end of the term, is the last piece of funding the project needs to go forward, Kasimov said. The units would remain affordable for 55 years.

The third project is called Stonehouse Family Housing, a 20-unit project that would be located next to a historic stone building on Highway 12 in east Santa Rosa used as a residential treatment center for women with chemical dependency.

The project by Athena Housing Associates and the California Human Development Corp. would rent rooms to women who had completed treatment and earn less than 30 percent of median income.

That $500,000 loan also would be deferrable until the end of its term.

The fourth and final project is a Habitat For Humanity project on West Steele Lane called Harris Village. The project is renovating a single-family home and building three new homes behind it, all for sale to families making less than 80 percent of median income. The $220,000 loan is one of several funding sources, including sweat equity.

The funds would be used as both an interest-free construction loan to the developer, and to provide low-interest loans to the buyers of the homes. Like other for-sale projects, the owners would be restricted for 59 years to selling to buyers with similar incomes.

The variety of projects that the program opted to fund should be viewed as a strength, Kasimov said.

“We’re all over the place with this, which is good,” he said.

Many of the projects that did not win funding could still do so in the future.

The City Council is studying whether to put a housing and infrastructure bond on the ballot in the fall of 2018, and if that passes, a significant infusion of cash could become available for such projects.

The biggest loser, so to speak, was Roem Development Corp., which asked for nearly $7 million to fund 61 units of affordable senior units in its 286-unit, $85 million project in Railroad Square

But it received nothing because the company, a year after it was selected by Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit to develop the vacant 5.4-acre eyesore beside the downtown rail station, still hasn’t inked an agreement with the delay-plagued railway.

The other projects that didn’t win funding, for various reasons, included the 175-unit Roseland Village Neighborhood Center, the 36-unit Fir Ridge Workforce Housing project in Fountaingrove and the renovation of the 118-unit Chelsa Gardens in the southwest.

Council members unanimously approved the outlay, and while some expressed regret the funds didn’t go further, the majority lauded the effort.

“I find this really exciting,” Councilman Jack Tibbetts said.

The city opted not to allocate all $3 million, but to hold back $250,000 for emerging issues, opting recently to direct those funds to expanding the city’s winter homeless shelter to year-round and focusing it on finding people housing.

Guhin said such direct subsidies are an important but not the sole way to fund affordable housing projects. Others efforts underway include loosening restrictions on accessory dwelling units, increasing density bonuses and making city-owned properties available for development, especially downtown.

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to accurately reflect the loan terms for the Harris Village project.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.