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Sonoma County supervisors authorize $3.2 million for affordable housing projects

Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday authorized spending $3.2 million on affordable housing construction projects aiming to add more than 300 units for low-income residents, including seniors and homeless residents.

In the process, county leaders sidestepped a funding dilemma that had two long-sought projects competing against one another for money supporters see as critical to underwrite efforts to quickly house dozens of the county’s most vulnerable residents.

The cash awards are earmarked for seven housing projects, including the renovation of 54 units at the former Gold Coin Motel in northern Santa Rosa to serve homeless residents and restorations and renovations at a former Masonic Lodge site on Acacia Lane in northeast Santa Rosa that will yield 26 apartments for low-income seniors.

Funding for St. Vincent de Paul’s Gold Coin conversion and PEP Housing’s senior apartments was an open question coming into Tuesday’s meeting, as the Board of Supervisors weighed diverging recommendations from county housing staff and the board’s appointed Community Development Committee.

But Supervisor David Rabbitt brokered a compromise that will result in funding for both, a decision met with relief by PEP Housing Executive Director Mary Stompe, who secured $500,000 from the county after a four-year push for help.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Stompe said in an interview. “I can’t think of another affordable housing project that’s had to go through four rounds to get funding. I’m obviously very happy that supervisors made the decision to fund us so we can now start construction.”

The PEP project will establish the Linda Tunis Senior Apartments, named for the 69-year-old Santa Rosa resident who died in the 2017 Tubbs fire at her home in the Journey’s End mobile home park.

The apartments, which could be completed by the end of this year, will be reserved for low-income seniors who have been impacted by federally declared disasters.

Tunis’ daughter, Jessica Tunis, a vocal advocate for wildfire safety measures in the aftermath of the 2017 firestorm, worked for PEP housing for 8 years. She made a tearful plea to supervisors on Tuesday to fund a portion of the project $8.4 million project.

“There are so many seniors and fire survivors living in substandard housing,” Tunis said, pausing during her wrenching testimony. “I look forward to the day that 26 seniors get to call the Linda Tunis apartments their home.”

The County Fund for Housing loans and Permanent Local Housing Allocation awards are approved annually as a way for county government to help developers and nonprofits close financial gaps tied to affordable housing projects, including renovations of existing buildings, that might not otherwise happen.

County housing officials weighed more than $9 million in requests this year, awarding about one-third of the total requested. Money for the county program is generated locally, through the county’s general fund, reinvestment and revitalization funds, developer fees, lodging taxes and loan fees and interest.

Since 2003, the county has helped fund the development and preservation of 457 apartments, including 225 units that have not yet been built, according to the county’s website.

The other projects covered by Tuesday’s allocation included $400,000 for a 52-unit apartment project that will cost $23 million in Windsor; $400,000 for an $18.6 million, 23-unit residential development in Cloverdale; $300,000 for a $35 million, 42-unit affordable housing project north of downtown Petaluma; $600,000 for a 16-home, $10.5 million project in Windsor; and $500,000 for redevelopment of the Journey’s End mobile home site in northern Santa Rosa, a $53 million project.

The Gold Coin Motel conversion, a project of nonprofit St. Vincent de Paul of Sonoma County, has a $9.9 million price tag. Under the compromise Tuesday, its grant was $500,000, leaving a remaining gap of $1.2 million, said Executive Director Jack Tibbetts, who serves on Santa Rosa City Council.

Tibbetts brought letters of support from the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers and even the Board of Supervisors, but a lack of local funding and a low leverage ratio led county staff to recommend no funding — a recommendation reversed by the county’s appointed housing committee.

Supervisors made the final decision, and Tibbetts said his organization will use the money to complete renovations at the motel, now known as St. Vincent de Paul Commons, by this summer.

“I felt the board’s pain. The truth is, there were a lot of deserving projects, PEP being one of them,” Tibbetts said. “Had this come before Council, I would have done what David did. It was the right call.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

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