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The 60 families living in the new Fetters Apartments in Sonoma Valley can say they won the lottery in snagging a rare, affordable rental dwelling.

Close to 850 families applied to live in the new apartments, reflecting the pent-up demand for affordable housing in Sonoma County, where rents have soared the past few years and vacancy rates hover around 1 percent.

The families selected to live in Fetters Apartments received the winning numbers in a random drawing after being screened to ensure they fell within income and other guidelines.

“We had applications from all over,” said Fetters Apartments General Manager Sandy Marasigan.

Although there was no requirement that applicants be local, she said 90 percent of the families selected were from Sonoma Valley.

“Quite a few were homeless, in shelters, or living in cars,” she said of the new tenants who now live in the apartments along Sonoma Highway, once the site of the historic Fetters Hot Springs hotel and bath house, lost to fire decades ago.

Among the chosen few was Pawan Nagpal, who moved into a three-bedroom apartment with his wife and two children ages 10 and 4. His wife gave birth to a boy on Thursday.

“It’s a nice apartment, beautiful,” Nagpal said of the place they moved into in February with a $1,011 rent.

Nagpal, a production worker at Petaluma Poultry, said he was paying $1,500 for a one-bedroom place on Verano Avenue before he moved to Fetters Apartments.

“There was nowhere to play. It was very dirty. There was a big tree that could fall at any time,” said his daughter, Palak, a sixth-grader at Altimira School.

In contrast, Fetters Apartments shares a playground with the adjacent Sonoma Charter School.

There are other amenities such as a computer lab, free WiFi, a community room with kitchen and big screen TV, laundry room and after-school program that will open up later this year.

The project was developed and managed by MidPen Housing, a Foster City-based nonprofit that has close to 100 properties with 7,000 affordable units.

Construction costs were $17.7 million, according to Riley Weissenborn, senior associate project manager.

An adjacent MidPen 40-unit affordable housing project for seniors — Celestina Gardens — is expected to break ground next door in the fall and be completed in a year. He said demand is also expected to be high for the senior units.

Sonoma County housing funds paid for approximately $2.6 million of the Fetters Apartments cost. But most of the construction is made possible through federal tax credits awarded to lenders who finance affordable housing.

More than a dozen of the Fetters Apartments’ occupants also are subsidized by the Section 8 housing program, under which participants pay a maximum 30 percent of their income to rent.

As another sign of the dire need for rental assistance, there are about 3,000 of those vouchers available in Sonoma County but more than 20,000 people seeking to get one, according to Margaret Van Vliet, executive director of the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.

“The folks we are here to serve are feeling the pinch of a very tight, very tough housing market,” she said. “Rents are going up really fast. Double-digit rent inflation the last few years is squeezing out people who are low income.”

Burbank Housing, which also provides low-income housing in Sonoma County, has a waiting list of 10,000 families for a portfolio of 2,800 units, up from 7,000 families just three years ago.

“It’s not gotten any better. In some ways, it’s gotten worse,” said Van Vliet.

Fetters Apartments serve households that earn between 30 and 60 percent of the Sonoma County median income.

Rent varies depending on income. For instance, a family of four with $24,700 in annual income pays $642 in rent for a three-bedroom apartment. A family of four with $49,440 income pays $1,285 for a three-bedroom unit.

They also are screened to make sure none of the occupants has any felony convictions.

There are some full-time students who are tenants, but mostly are working families.

“Everyone here is fantastic,” apartment manager Marasigan said of the occupants. “Not one person is rude, or mean. They’re so grateful for an opportunity.”

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

On Twitter@clarkmas

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