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PD Editorial: A housing market on the upswing brings challenges

  • KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat
    The median homes sales price in Santa Rosa topped $500,000 in July.

For those who held tight during the housing swoon, who made payments, weren’t caught with balloon mortgages and rode out the recession in neighborhoods relatively unscathed by foreclosures, there is reward in the latest news of recovery in California. The American dream of home ownership is again an investment that pays off.

But with every new report of promising gains is the inevitable worrisome asterisk. Rising prices mean more people shut out of the housing market. It means low- and middle-wage workers struggle to find affordable rents, much less a lender willing to accept a less-than-stellar credit rating and less-than-average income as a new customer.

As Staff Writer Robert Digitale reported, the median sales price for homes in Santa Rosa reached $508,500 in July, up 2.5 percent from June and 6.2 percent from a year earlier. Sale prices in Santa Rosa have appreciated 50 percent over the past five years, according to the Trulia online real estate site. The average listing price for Santa Rosa homes on Trulia was $711,404 for the week ending Aug. 6.

That keeps Santa Rosa above California averages, already high for the nation, but not at the tip-top.

That glory — or bane — goes to other cities. Four of the five most expensive housing markets are in California, according to the National Association of Realtors. Topping the list: San Jose metro area, where the median existing single-family home price was $899,500; followed by San Francisco’s $769,600, Anaheim-Santa Ana’s $691,900 and San Diego’s $504,200. The only non-California area to make the top five was Honolulu in fourth place, at $678,500.

Economists projecting the future of California’s economy predict better than average results. They are just a bit blue about the lack of affordable housing, which could tamp down expected economic growth.

Sonoma Valley homes are again becoming unreachable for many people, especially for younger buyers. The college-debt strapped millennials are particularly pinched.

Changes are needed. The federal government could make federal loan repayment accessible in more fields where more workers are sought and the community benefits from their endeavors. The medical field is a good start, for example. It benefits many. However, we have more needs, and more young workers would welcome the opportunity to live here, contribute in a helping professional and work themselves out of life-crimping loans.

Locally, lenders of all stripes need to step up to broaden access to loans, especially for working class petitioners.

Civic, business and government leaders can get ahead of this issue by joining hands in creative ways to broaden access to home loans, and accepting denser development in some areas. The housing issue intertwines with wages and the need to attract workers for jobs of all sorts.

“You can’t add jobs if there is no growth in the labor force because people are leaving because they can’t afford housing,” Chris Thornberg, an economist with Beacon Economics, has warned.

Our community must rise to the challenge of ensuring enough housing exists at many price points to protect and expand the local economy.


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