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.