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Healdsburg, one of the most expensive real estate markets in Sonoma County, is making some inroads to both create and preserve affordable housing.

The city has completed a $1.8 million deal to purchase a property on Center Street, preserving eight affordable, family-occupied units that were in danger of being replaced by more expensive housing.

Though small in the context of a town that has more than 4,000 housing units, it was a big deal for the families living there.

“They knew the property was on the market. They were terrified of having to move,” said Mark Krug, an official with Burbank Housing, the nonprofit agency that will be in charge of rehabilitating and managing the 60-year-old property for the city.

“They were so thankful. There were tears in their eyes,” he said of the reaction from grateful families when they discovered they could stay in their two-bedroom homes. Rents, which range from $1,250 to $1,400, won’t increase.

If the city hadn’t bought the four aging duplexes at 721-723 Center St., it’s likely another buyer would have torn them down and built several homes on the 20,000-square-foot lot, selling for perhaps $1.5 million apiece, Mayor Shaun McCaffery said.

“It would have been similar to what happened at the hospital site,” he said, referring to the old Healdsburg hospital, which was torn down and subdivided into seven lots for new home construction. The lots alone, he said, are selling for approximately $900,000 each.

The need for affordable housing is a concern in many communities, and in Healdsburg it became a priority two years ago as the City Council heard from families experiencing skyrocketing rents. Some were facing eviction as apartments were upgraded and put back on the market with much higher rents.

A city-commissioned poll last year found more than seven in 10 residents worried about the lack of housing for working families. Housing costs and lack of housing options were ranked as the most pressing issues in Healdsburg. Vacancy rates in the rental market are “extremely low or nonexistent,” according to a 2014 study.

The city approved a housing action plan last year with a goal to create 200 new affordable units in the next five years; 125 secondary (granny) units; 135 middle-income dwellings; and 100 rental units.

Since then, the city has approved two new affordable housing projects totaling 66 dwellings.

One of them, at 110 Dry Creek Road, will be 42 rental units for people whose incomes fall between 80 to 120 percent of median income, with estimated rents ranging between $1,450 for a one-bedroom to $2,750 for three bedrooms. The Southern California developers, Seaview Investors, also plan to build an adjoining 122-room hotel.

The other project approved late last year will create 24 units at 1201 Grove St. on property once owned by the city’s former redevelopment agency. The city sold the parcel to developer Pacific West for almost $1.8 million but the project will top $11 million, when construction costs are included, according to McCaffery.

By comparison, preserving existing housing units on Center Street is much cheaper.

“It speaks to the efficiency of converting existing units into affordable rather than building from scratch,” McCaffery said.

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