Sonoma is the 10th least affordable county in the nation for buying a home
The issue has been around at least two decades, but Sonoma County has once more been tagged as one of the least affordable places in the country to buy a home.
And no one here seems surprised.
The newest ranking, from national housing data firm RealtyTrac, named Sonoma the 10th least affordable county in the nation for home purchases. RealtyTrac this week reported that it would take a whopping 82 percent of the average county resident’s salary to make the monthly payment required for a median-priced home here.
The Bay Area and surrounding counties were well represented near the top of the list. Marin County ranked second, with Santa Cruz, third; San Francisco, fourth; Napa, seventh; San Mateo, 11th; Alameda, 14th; and Santa Clara, 22nd. In all, California held 18 of the top 25 spots, though the number one ranking belonged to Brooklyn, N.Y.
The study looked at 417 counties with a combined population of nearly 210 million.
Highlighting the relationship between wages and housing costs here failed to arouse much surprise.
“This is not new news for families that have been living through this housing crisis for the last five years,” said Daven Cardenas, co-director of the North Bay Organizing Project, a local group that has been pushing for rent control and other tenant protections. “This is truly becoming a playground for the rich.”
Keith Woods, chief executive officer at the North Coast Builders Exchange, a Santa Rosa trade group, said the “rich” moniker missed the mark. Most of the county’s homeowners don’t exactly qualify as wealthy, he said, even if they have seen their home values jump significantly over the decades.
But Woods offered his own ear-catching label to describe what the lack of new home construction is making the Bay Area. “The world’s largest gated community,” he called it, referring to how difficult it is to afford to enter this housing market. “That’s what the area has become.”
He said officials must find creative ways to provide more housing, especially for the millennial generation. Otherwise, “they’re going to go elsewhere, and we’re going to regret it.”
No one can say they didn’t see this coming.
The issue of affordability here has been around for years. Even in 1995, the National Association of Home Builders ranked Sonoma as the fifth least affordable county, based upon the proportion of homes that could be bought by a median-income household. California has long been a more expensive place to live than much of the rest of the country. Woods suggested living here comes with a “sunshine tax.”
It may be small comfort, but California Association of Realtors economist Jordan Levine said the county today appears more affordable than it was during the height of the housing bubble.
In mid-2006, it took 92 percent of county median household income — a different measure than RealtyTrac’s average salary — to make the median house payment, Levine said. Today that number is 51 percent, slightly below the historical average of about 55 percent.
But both the county and the state are feeling the effects of “chronic under-building,” Levine said. Since the housing market tumbled a decade ago, county home construction has fallen to less than a quarter of the historic average.