Close to Home: Moving ahead on local housing

Our housing crisis started with job growth outpacing new home construction at a rate of 12 to 1, according to according to the regional Equity Analysis Report for Plan Bay Area 2040.

This lack of supply was further complicated by the significant loss of federal and state housing dollars, including redevelopment funds, plus broader trends like increasing income inequality, changing tax policies and wage stagnation.

Locally, we bear the added burden of so many neighbors tragically losing their homes in the fires last year.

Recently, though, we've seen communities in Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties vote to invest in new, local affordable housing projects. I believe we should follow their model, so we too can build more homes for our teachers, nurses, trades people, restaurant and winery workers - homes that every middle class family that works here can afford.

And we want to do so while ensuring our health and environment remain protected.

We need to design solutions to today's housing challenges, not go backward with old ideas like “it's the economy versus the environment” as is often implied.

That was always a false choice and, over the years, voters have seen through such misinformation. That's why they continue to vote for urban growth boundaries, managed growth ordinances, community separators and protected open spaces. We should continue to trust local voters' wisdom on these issues.

As we move forward with producing more housing, preserving the affordable housing we have and protecting renters, we have to keep in mind that we're doing all this within existing communities. We cannot bulldoze planning processes that have evolved over decades to protect existing neighborhoods just to create new ones. We seek more cooperation from both sides.

That's why I was so heartened to learn that leaders in local environmental organizations were among the first to help write the statement of principles recently drafted by housing advocates and developers. Environmentalists want to be part of the solution.

Yet I was disheartened when this newspaper reported that the president of our local Farm Bureau complained that a farm valued at $5 million dollars would have to pay an additional $967 per year, and that's why they opposed a countywide housing measure (“County plans for housing stumble,” June 10).

For less than $1,000, that millionaire farmer could have helped thousands of local residents. What are any of us supposed to tell a Sonoma State University student who sees another rent increase he can't afford? Or a senior who's losing the home she's had for the past decade because her landlord hopes to attract a techie who can pay more? Is it, oh well, the millionaire farmer didn't want to pay $967 in more taxes?

We have to start bending the curve toward more fairness and opportunity. We have to fight for our middle class to be able to live here, including members of organized labor who are under assault across the country.

I've seen environmentalists and left-leaning leaders who are willing to compromise with developers. At the city, I'm open to streamlining permitting and more transparency for in-lieu fees and real estate transfer taxes, for example. But I also hope developers are willing to admit that financing remains an obstacle to affordable housing across California, as this November's four statewide ballot measures on housing confirm. Land prices alone, which are increasing irrespective of regulation, are enough to sink most affordable housing projects here.

It's time we put our money where our mouths are. It's time we invest in local housing production.

The Santa Rosa City Council is considering placing a housing measure on the ballot for this November. I hope you'll tell council members what you think about this opportunity.

We must keep moving forward. Now is not the time to turn back the clock. There are many houses to build, so let's get busy.

Julie Combs is a member of the Santa Rosa City Council and vice chair of the nine Bay Area counties' Regional Planning Board.

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