The North Bay has experienced a once-in-a-lifetime calamity with wildfires that have decimated our communities. The need for housing, and especially affordable housing, has never been more acute.
Fortunately, the California Legislature recently passed, and the governor has signed, six important bills aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing statewide.
Hats off to our state legislators, Assembly members Jim Wood, Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, Marc Levine and state Sens. Mike McGuire and Bill Dodd, for their full-throated support of this important legislative package. As we start to consider the future and the huge rebuilding ahead for this community, these new tools will provide a critical source of support for our efforts.
These new laws provide both a new funding source to address the critical need for affordable housing as well as providing procedural fixes to obstacles that have slowed development of new projects. Senate Bill 2, for example, imposes a modest fee on certain real estate transactions and is expected to generate $200 million to $300 million per year for affordable housing. Senate Bill 3 establishes a $4 billion statewide housing bond. Senate Bill 35 will speed the development of new affordable housing projects by making it more difficult for local opposition to delay approvals. Three other bills passed as part of the overall package to strengthen existing laws that will prevent development and encourage California cities and counties to set housing goals and create plans for meeting them.
But as welcome as these new laws are, legislation alone cannot solve the problem. Across our region, our low-income population will see even greater economic strains due to historic housing shortages and underemployment. In our rebuilding, we need to acknowledge the unique circumstances that this population will encounter through the yet evolving rebuilding process.
Only through the innovative and energetic work of private real estate developers and nonprofits such as Burbank Housing can we both rebuild and increase the amount of decent, affordable housing in livable communities. As one of those innovative nonprofits, with a record of building and managing 4,000 affordable homes in Sonoma County, we at Burbank Housing are proud to be part of the solution.
The obstacles to both rebuilding and increasing the supply of housing are not insurmountable, but our staff and volunteers can’t do it alone. While we celebrate the new tools provided by the Legislature in Sacramento, there is much that needs to be done right here in Sonoma County.
One of those obstacles is simple to overcome: the misunderstanding of what affordable housing really means.
In the case of high-priced Sonoma County, affordable housing is a tested and proven method of fostering diversity in our cities and towns, enabling lower- and middle-income families to live, work and prosper in the communities where they work, and in many cases transforming blighted areas into vibrant, thriving neighborhoods.
The more than 10,000 people we serve include not only those with special needs — the elderly, those with disabilities and others at the margins of our society — but also teachers, office-workers, laborers, service-providers and others who contribute mightily to our society but for whom market-rate housing options are simply out of reach. They will need to rebuild their lives, and most will not have the resources to do that.
There are no easy fixes to such complex challenges. We’re certain to see these challenges grow with the catastrophic losses from these wildfires. As our citizens begin to assess their losses, we must all stand together as more and more people will face the growing need for affordable housing. But there’s still hope to see measurable results. We can all contribute to this effort by demanding quality affordable housing in our county — letting our legislators know that we support current initiatives — and donating to local affordable housing nonprofits. By joining the forces of private investment, nonprofit innovation and government engagement, we can assure our low-income residents that we’re here for them and ensure the long-term viability and vitality of our communities as we rebuild.