Conduct an online search for “rent control” or “affordable housing crisis,” and you will see just how dire the situation has become all across America.
It should then come as no surprise that working-class people cannot afford rents in Santa Rosa.
In order for housing to be “affordable,” the rent shouldn’t exceed one-third of a person’s income.
With rent starting at $1,100 a month, a person’s income would need to be $39,600 a year for a one-bedroom apartment to be classified as affordable. That means that an individual must make a little more than $20 an hour. Minimum wage in California is $10.50 an hour, so affording rent would require someone to work 80 hours a week.
My calculations are meant to paint a rough picture. I’m just trying to shine some light on this gloomy nightmare that so many renters face here in Santa Rosa.
I grow weary when I hear that rental costs reflect what the market will bear. Where does computational rhetoric like this take into account the hardships of the hardworking poor, the lower middle class, veterans and the mentally ill? What about all the retail workers, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants and cashiers? How about those who have suffered some horrible tragedy or other misfortune? The broad set of circumstances and affected list of occupations would be too lengthy to list here. Where is our compassion and love of humanity? In so many cases, the “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” brand of American self-determination is heartless nonsense.
The cost of living in Sonoma County is one of the highest in the country. I’ve heard this over and over: “Well, if it’s too expensive, just move.” What this argument fails to take into account is that we need all different types of workers to perform a variety of services in a community. If everyone who makes less than $20 an hour moves, where does that leave all the many businesses that require these lower-wage workers?
So much needs to be done to make sure we don’t continue any intentional or unintentional gentrification, which is making our city unaffordable for working class and lower-middle-class people. Homelessness is on the rise all over the country, with Sonoma County having one of the highest rates per-capita in California. We need to look to other communities’ successes for examples on how to produce and retain affordable housing.
We must also consider existing systems of providing shelter for those who cannot care for themselves.
And we must let the voters decide in a June election whether Santa Rosa wishes to adopt a rent control ordinance. Having already been approved by Santa Rosa City Council, the ordinance was to be enacted this past fall. But it was swiftly thwarted by an arguably deceptive and heavy-handed petition blast set forth by the California Apartments Association among others.
This ordinance would help working people keep their apartments and maintain a decent quality of living. Instead of living in constant fear of their rents rising too much and too quickly, these tenants could foresee and plan for small increases, allowing them to afford these new higher rates.
This ordinance would help keep a large portion of lower-income workers living and working in Sonoma County, which is necessary for a vibrant, diverse and economically healthy community.