Sonoma County housing summit highlights impact of high living costs on residents
Nearly half of all Sonoma County households are struggling with the cost of housing, meaning at least 30% of their total income goes to shelter and utility costs, according to a new report from a local advocacy group.
That means less money for transportation, food, medicine, child care and other needs, the report’s authors found, presenting a potentially crippling drag on residents’ path to financial stability and other problems that can undermine health and well-being.
The lowest income earners, local Black and Latino residents and renters were more likely to struggle with housing costs, according to officials with Generation Housing, the advocacy group that produced the new report.
"Cost burden acts as a kind of tax on Sonoma County," said Joshua Shipper, director of special initiatives at Generation Housing, who on Thursday presented findings of the yearlong study on the effect of housing costs on the community.
The report sought to explore the budget constraints, cost-cutting measures and sacrifices cost-burdened individuals and families make to afford to live here and what that means for the health of the local community and economy.
It was compiled using responses from an expansive 2022 housing survey conducted by Generation Housing of about 770 respondents and supplemented with other data analysis.
Some went without health care. Some reported being forced to move multiple times because of rising rents. Young people said they didn’t see a long-term future in Sonoma County.
“This impacts the resiliency of the community,” Generation Housing Executive Director Jen Klose said. The Santa Rosa-based nonprofit, launched in 2020, seeks to promote affordable housing development in the region.
The findings were part of a broader conversation during the first part of Generation Housing’s Housing Solutions Summit that brought together about 150 local government representatives, housing officials, business and civic leaders at Sally Tomatoes in Rohnert Park.
A second forum geared toward actions local officials can take to accelerate housing production is slated for 1 to 5 p.m. May 4 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts.
The event comes as cities face increased pressure from the state to build more housing, particularly affordable, and as Generation Housing positions itself to become a bigger player in that push regionally.
It featured a discussion with local executives and industry leaders about the impact on their workers and business and a keynote address by Jason Pu, regional administrator with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Pu said decades of disinvestment in housing construction has led to today’s housing crisis and it will take collaboration between all levels of government and community buy-in to address.
“We know that this work is not easy and that it takes sustained intention over the long haul,” he said. “I encourage you all to dig deep, to rely on one another for strength and to never stop looking for solutions to this challenge."
He said HUD is prioritizing investments in housing for vulnerable populations like veterans, down payment assistance for lower earners, expanding low-income housing tax credits and taking additional steps to protect current housing stock.
Some of the report’s key findings include:
- Nearly 80% of respondents experienced financial stress at least some of the year and about 1/3 of 25- to 44-year-olds reported financial stress year-round.
- Households struggling to pay for housing almost every month were six times more likely to skip health care than households that were financially stable.
- About 1 in 3 families with young children said they couldn’t pay for child care and 1 in 4 of all families couldn’t afford preschool.
- Half of all households that are severely cost burdened, meaning 50% or more of their income goes to housing, struggled to afford food at least once in the past year.
- Cost burden contributed to housing instability, with households that were severely cost burdened being twice as likely to live in overcrowded conditions and twice as likely to worry about being forced out of their home for being unable to pay rent or mortgage. By comparison, those who were financially stable on average lived 15 years in the same home.
“I think it’s clear the rent is too damn high,” said Óscar Chávez, president and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County, the county’s philanthropic hub, who moderated the panel.
He described the data as “sobering.”
The information was punctuated by firsthand accounts about the impact of housing costs.
Former Roseland resident Manuel Perez, 25, said in a video testimonial that about 70% of his earnings as a case worker went to living expenses. That left little discretionary funds to save for a home, return to school or cover an emergency.
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