Housing construction accelerates in Sonoma County
For at least a decade the tract housing subdivision sat uncompleted in west Santa Rosa — a repossessed field with a looped, asphalt road and most of the sidewalks installed.
But this spring foundations and framed walls arose from the ground along Sebastopol Road near the Courtside Village neighborhood. Plans there call for the construction of 51 single-family homes and 16 attached units.
“We plan to build all 67 just as fast as we can,” said Richard Lafferty, president and CEO of Lafferty Communities, a San Ramon-based homebuilding company. The project is one of the few remaining that sat for years after the original developers gave properties back to banks in the midst of a historic housing market crash.
Like the as-yet-unbranded subdivision, the Sonoma County new home sector is showing signs of life.
Builders are slowly making a comeback after enduring an unprecedented slowdown in the years following the recession. This year builders have broken ground for new subdivisions from Rohnert Park to Windsor for the first of hundreds of homes that are expected to be built in the next five years.
The home construction season appears on track to be the busiest in at least a decade. That is partly because hundreds of homes are being rebuilt in areas ravaged from last fall’s wildfires.
“The pace has picked up,” said Keith Woods, CEO at North Coast Builders Exchange, a Santa Rosa trade group.
Sonoma County residents shouldn’t be surprised at the renewed activity, Woods maintained. Nor should they surmise that one year of increased building will provide the county an adequate supply of homes.
“We are playing catch-up,” he said, “and there is a huge shortage of housing.”
Both city and county officials are calling for the addition of thousands of housing units in the coming years. Their proposals include high-density housing in downtown Santa Rosa, home projects on surplus government properties and subsidized units aided by a new affordable housing bond for Santa Rosa.
As such, Woods predicted the next five to 10 years “will be one of the busier building eras that we’ve ever had here.”
Skeptics have suggested that various roadblocks nonetheless may limit construction. They point to a lack of progress for years in building transit- oriented housing in Railroad Square on land owned by the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency. Similarly, they note the recent resistance of neighbors to a proposal by developer Bill Gallaher to build 870 housing units on the county’s old hospital complex along Chanate Road in east Santa Rosa.
Hanging over the local housing market is the damage done by the most destructive wildfires in state history. The fires of October claimed 24 lives and burned nearly 5,300 homes in the county.
In the past nine months, a new category of buyer has appeared at new housing subdivisions: fire survivor. Among the first places such home seekers went last fall was to a 35-unit development in the Skyhawk neighborhood off Highway 12 in east Santa Rosa.
“Half to three quarters of that subdivision ended up going to people who lost homes in the fire,” said Aaron Matz, president of Santa Rosa-based APM Homes, the project’s builder.
In northwest Santa Rosa, nearly half of those purchasing the first 14 homes at the Fox Hollow subdivision this spring were fire survivors, said Trisha Guido, the development’s marketing manager. Late last month, the first buyers got keys to move into new homes off Fulton Road near Piner High School. The development’s prices start at $585,000.