From the escalating rents facing tenants to the tight market weighing on home buyers, Sonoma County’s housing crisis is emerging as a dominant issue in the race to replace Efren Carrillo on the Board of Supervisors.
The two leading candidates, Noreen Evans and Lynda Hopkins, are staking out proposals that could change city skylines, restrict how landlords conduct their business, overhaul the permitting process for housing developers and alter the socioeconomic makeup of whole neighborhoods.
Evans, an attorney and former state legislator, has argued in favor of rent control and other tenant protections, as well as new mandates requiring developers to build affordable housing in all new projects.
“We have to maintain our current stock of affordable housing. We need to build thousands more affordable units, and we need to elect someone who is willing to stand up to the developers and real estate interests who don’t want to do this because it’s not profitable,” said Evans, also a former Santa Rosa councilwoman. “Housing is the No. 1 issue in this campaign, and what’s at stake is what Sonoma County will look like in the future — a community for just the wealthy or a place that everyone can afford to live.”
Hopkins, an organic farmer who has never held elected office, has outlined a housing strategy that focuses on reducing permit fees and creating other incentives to encourage developers to build more units, as well as streamlining the permitting process for homeowners seeking to convert rooms into rental units.
“The idea is to rent out underutilized bedrooms,” Hopkins said. “Addressing our affordability crisis is my top policy priority, and I think it reflects what I’m seeing and hearing when I’m knocking on doors and walking precincts. How to afford life in Sonoma County is the No. 1 concern I hear from the community and it really centers around the housing situation here.”
She has also floated a potential tax increase to fund new home construction and rental assistance programs.
“It’s sort of my pie-in-the-sky, big dream hope,” Hopkins said, comparing such a measure to the tax county residents pay to set aside open space and farmland. “We as a community have decided that affordable housing is important.”
Evans and Hopkins appear to be the two front-runners that will advance to a November runoff.
The other candidates in the west county primary election Tuesday are Tim Sergent, a special education teacher at Maria Carrillo High School; Tom Lynch, a county planning commissioner and fiscal watchdog; and Marion Chase, a county social services worker. They, too, said the rising cost of housing is a top concern among 5th District constituents and residents countywide.
The cost of housing across the county has continued to climb in recent years. From its low of $305,000 in February 2009, the county’s median home price has risen to $569,500, slightly lower than the record high of $619,000 set in August 2005.
Rents, meanwhile, have risen 40 percent over the past four years, and the rental vacancy rate is now hovering at around 1 percent.
More than 12,300 Sonoma County households are on waiting lists for an affordable unit, with the average wait time of six to seven years.
Housing platforms 5th District front-runners
— Favors rent control, limits on landlords’ ability to evict tenants
— Proposes tougher rules requiring developers to build affordable units in new projects
— Supports impact fees paid by developers
— Favors city-centered housing development bolstered by county funds and county aid to fast track environmental review
— Supports rent control and eviction limits only if Santa Rosa enacts its proposed rent cap and tenant protections.
— Favors altering impact fees paid by developers to a per-square-foot basis rather than per unit
— Favors fewer requirements and fees for homeowners who want to convert existing rooms into rentals and build granny units
— Favors a tax increase to fund new home construction and rental assistance programs