Sonoma County home builders suffered through another slow year in 2015, but building officials and others insist construction activity will increase markedly this year.
County builders took out permits for just 442 new houses, apartments and condominiums last year, down 13 percent from the previous year, according to preliminary data from the California Homebuilding Foundation.
The number of permits to build single-family homes — 236 — appears to be the fewest issued in at least 45 years. The count includes permits issued by both county and city planning agencies.
Building officials for months have been saying that home construction is about to shift into a higher gear. A Press Democrat survey in December found developers moving forward with plans to build more than 1,400 housing units between Petaluma and Windsor.
Those who watch the industry remain expectant for the coming months.
“We believe that there’s going to be a significant uptick in activity in 2016 over 2015,” said Mark Setterland, chief building official for the city of Santa Rosa.
Developers and builders are seeking Santa Rosa’s permission to build more than 1,100 housing units, according to a list compiled by the planning department for today’s City Council meeting. The list includes more than two dozen subdivisions, many of which are ready or nearly ready to receive building permits.
Council members tonight will review ongoing efforts to promote more affordable housing in Santa Rosa and also will consider how to best prepare to accommodate the expected increase in applications for housing subdivisions and building permits.
Over the past eight years, county builders have taken out permits to construct fewer than 4,700 homes, or nearly 600 a year.
In contrast, an average of 2,500 homes a year were constructed in Sonoma County during the two preceding decades.
While construction continued to decline in Sonoma County in 2015, housing starts increased in Mendocino and Lake counties last year, the Sacramento-based homebuilding foundation reported.
Mendocino builders last year pulled 87 new home permits, compared to 79 in 2014. Lake builders took out 71 permits, compared to 42 a year earlier.
Randy Waller, broker and owner with W Real Estate in Santa Rosa, acknowledged that the work of Sonoma County builders has yet to translate into housing starts.
Waller is marketing homes for five local projects totaling more than 200 homes. However, to date only 11 permits have been pulled for those projects.
“The permits are being pulled slowly, and they’re being pulled in small batches,” Waller said.
This is partly because lenders have tightened rules since the housing downturn last decade, impacting the pace of construction, he said.
Keith Woods, chief executive officer at North Coast Builders Exchange, a Santa Rosa trade group, acknowledged that “we’ve had eight years of little or no housing construction.” But he maintained that will change this year.
“People are going to be busy in the construction industry,” he said.
The biggest demand now appears to be centered on apartments and condos, Woods said. Part of the reason is that more and more families can no longer afford to buy a single-family home in Sonoma County.
Only 26 percent of the households in Sonoma County could afford the median-priced single-family home in Sonoma County during the fourth quarter, down from 29 percent a year ago and 30 percent in 2013, the California Association of Realtors reported this month.