Longtime Healdsburg residents frustrated by lack of affordable housing

Residents spoke out about a lack of affordable housing at the most recent community encuentro, “Living Together: Housing and Planning for a Better Healdsburg” hosted by the City of Healdsburg, Acosta Latino Learning Partnership and Corazón Healdsburg.|

Tanya Escobar-Hernandez has lived in Healdsburg for 14 years.

On the verge of tears Thursday, during a free community meeting about Healdsburg housing equity, she told a crowd of about 60 attendees she wished she could continue to live in the city.

“Sometimes, I feel like I belong here more than where I was born,” she said.

Born in Mexico City, the mother of two volunteers with Corazón Healdsburg and dances in a local ballet folklórico group. Her children love their schools.

But, she said, lack of affordable housing options have forced her, her husband, and two children to abandon a city they adore. After her husband’s employer sold the ranch where the family of four lived, she began to look for their next residence.

She couldn’t find an apartment in her family’s price range in Healdsburg and she was frustrated by the yearslong wait lists for affordable housing – about three to five years, she said.

“Honestly, I am very sad that I have to leave Healdsburg,” Escobar-Hernandez said.

She and other residents spoke out about the lack of affordable housing after a panel of local housing experts answered questions during the most recent community encuentro, “Living Together: Housing and Planning for a Better Healdsburg,” which was hosted by the city of Healdsburg, Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, or ALLP, and Corazón Healdsburg.

Data gathered at Thursday’s and future events will inform the city’s diversity, equity and inclusion plan, which ALLP is developing and will deliver to city leaders in the spring.

Healdsburg City Council members Evelyn Mitchell, Ron Edwards and Chris Herrod attended Thursday’s gathering along with City Manager Jeff Kay, who gave opening remarks.

The first half of the program, a Q&A portion, was moderated by Deyanira Nevarez Martinez, an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at Michigan State University and an ALLP consultant.

Panelists included Stephen Sotomayor, Healdsburg housing director, Margaret Dematteo, a housing policy attorney with Legal Aid of Sonoma County, and Deb Kravitz, chair of the Housing Element Work Group, a resident group that informs the city’s road map for housing production.

For state-funded local housing projects, Sotomayor underscored that many of those funds are tied to parameters, such as the number of washing machines allowed in a low-income housing unit, which impacts what Healdsburg can build.

Ongoing affordable housing projects include Saggio Hills, North Village, The Randall and Dry Creek Commons.

Both Sotomayor and Dematteo agreed that certain viewpoints toward housing needed to change.

With regard to adding low-income housing units, Sotomayor said, “it’s not something that needs to be looked down upon, it’s necessary.”

He said that many fear the idea of low-income housing being built near the vicinity of their homes. That fear, he said, fails to consider that residents in low-income housing are integral to the community.

Dematteo said she would like for people to “think about tenants and renting as an equal form of housing as homeownership.”

Both Dematteo and Kravitz believed the city’s voter-approved Growth Management Ordinance is detrimental to housing. Passed as Measure M in 2000, the ordinance limited the number of housing units the city could build per year, with the exception of affordable housing units.

Kravitz said the ordinance increased housing scarcity and it takes longer to build necessary housing, which leads to higher long term costs.

Panelists then answered questions submitted by attendees via notecards. However, Zeke Guzman, Healdsburg resident and president of Latinos Unidos del Condado de Sonoma, raised concerns that the forum didn’t allow attendees to individually voice their frustrations.

The event shifted to allow residents to directly ask questions and removed a planned group activity.

Soon after, Escobar-Hernandez shared her family’s story followed by a chorus of other critical voices: Adriana Zavala, a Healdsburg resident of 23 years, wondered if her children would ever afford a home there. Dora Ortega, a resident of 30 years asked leadership to consider allowing people to reside in trailers as an affordable option and to think about the impact of expensive housing on local farmworkers, who she said are integral to the local economy.

Yolanda Giron asked why her sons needed to move out of state to find “dignified” housing and why rent estimates for new housing projects, posted on the community center’s walls, weren’t directly available.

The next encuentro will address labor from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 30 at the Healdsburg Community Center on 1557 Healdsburg Ave. Interpretation, child care and refreshments will be available.

You can reach Staff Writer Jennifer Sawhney at 707-521-5346 or jennifer.sawhney@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @sawhney_media.

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