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Windsor, Healdsburg face sharp rise in targets for new affordable housing

Affordable housing targets, 2023-2031 (proposed)

Santa Rosa: 4,686

Sonoma County (unincorporated): 3,881

Petaluma: 1,910

Rohnert Park: 1,580

Windsor: 993

Healdsburg: 476

Sonoma: 311

Cloverdale: 278

Cotati: 234

Sebastopol: 213

Total: 14,562

SOURCE: Association of Bay Area Governments

Windsor and Healdsburg are among a dozen Bay Area cities that each would be obligated to build hundreds more affordable homes under an 8-year plan to meet state mandates, a sharp increase that stemmed from a change in the regional housing allocation to achieve greater racial and socioeconomic equity

The shift requires Windsor and Healdsburg together to approve and advance by 2031 more than 850 apartments, condominiums and single-family homes for lower-income residents, an increase of 146% over the housing targets they had been expecting under a previous formula.

For Windsor, the increase was 341 units, for a total of 993. For Healdsburg it was 176 more units, resulting in a new total of 476.

“This is a very steep, exponential increase of the number of units we would have to build in short order,” said Healdsburg Councilwoman Ariel Kelley. “It’s definitely worrisome in the sense that these units are very expensive to get built, and it’s very challenging to identify funding to build them.”

The revised targets remain preliminary, with final votes among Bay Area regional leaders and state officials still a ways off. The new requirements are not set to take effect until 2023.

Still, the revisions have jolted officials in the 18 cities where housing targets were altogether increased by more than 3,000 units — a list that also includes Gilroy, St. Helena and unincorporated parts of Napa County. In 60 other jurisdictions, including all others in Sonoma County, they were lowered, and in 31 places they stayed the same.

The blueprint at issue is the Bay Area’s housing development plan, a state-mandated document that allocates minimum targets for new affordable housing in the nine counties and each of their cities. In the current eight-year housing cycle, ending in 2023, California required about 188,000 new affordable homes be built across the Bay Area. The next cycle more than doubles the total to roughly 441,000 lower-income units.

The plan places an emphasis on building more overall units and higher density in areas that already include large employment centers and access to transportation in an effort to meet state greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals. As a result, the Bay Area’s largest cities, including San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, would continue to shoulder the largest number of new homes. Together, they would account for about 170,000 more affordable housing units that must be approved and permitted by the end of 2031, equating to 40% of all of the units assigned by the state to the Bay Area. Still, each city’s targets dropped under the revisions made last month.

The fallout for Healdburg and Windsor has raised hackles among their representatives and drawn scrutiny from local officials involved in regional housing discussions.

Rohnert Park Councilwoman Susan Hollingsworth Adams, who sits on a planning committee for the Association of Bay Area Governments, which presides over the allocation process for the region. She questioned the added equity component that increased targets for Healdsburg and Windsor while also assailing the top-down process — a long-standing critique that local officials have leveled at Sacramento over housing targets.

“This is an overreach by the state of California,” she said. “We’re going to lose the flavor of our communities if we’re all just assigned numbers by the state, and this is how many houses you have to build next year. The sun, moon and the stars have to align for that to happen, and they just don’t for Windsor and Healdsburg.”

The new equity component was approved last month by the executive committee for ABAG.

As a result, Sonoma County’s overall target of new affordable housing dropped by about 1% over the current cycle. The combined countywide target would be more than 14,500 affordable homes, including all nine cities and the unincorporated area. For comparison, more than 208,000 homes, including apartments, exist in the county, with a population of more than 494,000 people.

Windsor, the county’s fourth-largest city with just over 27,000 residents, would be on the hook for the fifth-highest total of affordable homes within the county, behind Santa Rosa, the unincorporated county, Petaluma and Rohnert Park.

“I’m concerned about the total number, and — because Windsor is relatively built out — where we’re going to be able to find places to locate units in good locations, close to jobs and transit and all that, and how we’re going to be able to accommodate that within town limits,” said Jessica Jones, Windsor’s community development director.

Windsor’s allocation of nearly 1,000 units would be spread across very low- and low-income homes, plus moderate- and above-moderate levels of the area’s median income. Its target in the current cycle is 440 affordable units.

Affordable housing targets, 2023-2031 (proposed)

Santa Rosa: 4,686

Sonoma County (unincorporated): 3,881

Petaluma: 1,910

Rohnert Park: 1,580

Windsor: 993

Healdsburg: 476

Sonoma: 311

Cloverdale: 278

Cotati: 234

Sebastopol: 213

Total: 14,562

SOURCE: Association of Bay Area Governments

“Personally, I believe in a diversity of housing in Windsor and we’ll do our best to achieve it,” said Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli. “The reality is, we as a city can plan the best we can, but we’re not the builders. So it requires builders and developers to be able to do that, and that’s the biggest issue everyone is facing in the region.”

In Healdsburg, the proposed target of 476 affordable units is more than three times the requirement in the current cycle.

Officials in both cities say they are on track to meet their current subsidized housing targets by the end of 2023. But building hundreds more affordable housing units on top of their usual allocation in the next cycle is a daunting task. Both cities have urban growth boundaries that limit their outward spread. Healdsburg has a strict voter-approved cap on annual housing starts, but it does not apply because affordable housing is exempt.

The current median sales price for a single family home in Healdsburg leads the county at about $835,000, according to Zillow, so available land comes at a premium. And development of affordable housing for very low- and low-income residents can run as much as $500,000 per unit in the region, according to Stephen Sotomayor, Healdsburg’s housing administrator.

“The challenge is, how do you finance that?” Sotomayor said. “Healdsburg is committed to affordable housing. It’s not that we’re arguing not to have more affordable housing, it’s just that the last-minute nature of this was really a surprise.”

ABAG officials rejected claims put forward by local representatives that the equity component used to revise housing targets came out of the blue. Versions of the formula had been discussed by various committees since the fall, they said.

“I can understand their frustration about having the change to the methodology impact just a handful of cities,” said Dave Vautin, an assistant director with ABAG. “At the same time, we need to recognize that this methodology adjustment is something that was discussed in forums for a number of months, and, ultimately … the ABAG executive board has the final say.”

The executive board’s decision next heads to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development for its review and response, opening another window for public comment, potential changes and future appeals. The state is expected to finalize housing requirements for cities and counties at the end of the year.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

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