Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday advanced efforts to place on the November ballot a $300 million bond measure meant to help subsidize the construction of tens of thousands of new homes in the region.
Policymakers, housing advocates and environmental leaders have aligned in support of the proposed general obligation bond. They see it as crucial tool to speed recovery from the October wildfires, which destroyed nearly 5,300 homes in the county.
The proposal, which awaits a final vote by the Board of Supervisors this summer, would be patterned off similar efforts approved by voters in San Francisco, Santa Clara and Alameda counties to support affordable housing development.
“So many people my age, my generation, feel like they have no future in Sonoma County,” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, 35, who is part of the coalition working to bring the bond before voters. “I see them leave for other states … This is also true at the other end of the age spectrum and with our senior community who increasingly feels like there’s not place left for them.”
Supporters hope the bond measure can be used to leverage more money at the state and federal level, including a proposed $4 billion state housing bond going before California voters in November.
The local money could provide funding to help much-needed housing projects pencil out, backers say, spurring the creation of affordable units that were in short supply even before the wildfires.
“It’s never easy to go before the voters for local revenue measures, be it ag preservation, be it open space, be it parks, be it roads, be it bridges, and in this case, housing,” said Efren Carrillo, a former county supervisor, who now leads government relations for the nonprofit developer Burbank Housing in Santa Rosa. “And yet we recognize that there are many tools that the local leaders have to look at to start to crawl back out of the crisis that we have before us.”
The bond proposal has drawn support from a cross-section of local political leaders and environmental interests, including Sonoma County Conservation Action. Santa Rosa City Councilman Jack Tibbetts is helping lead the push for the proposal.
Supervisor David Rabbitt, an architect, voiced strong support for comprehensive efforts to expand the housing market and said county leaders needed to hold themselves accountable to their ambitious targets.
“We’ve never done that before,” Rabbitt said. “We say we do, but that’s not true.”
The Board of Supervisors, for its part, has floated a goal of adding 30,000 units in the county over the next 5 years.
“I hope we can have an adult conversation about housing, about growth in this county and really talk about where that should be and how it should occur,” Rabbitt said.
But not everyone is on board yet. Maddy Hirshfield, political director of the North Bay Labor Council, said her organization was “disappointed and saddened” with the bond plans so far. The current statement of principles drafted by supporters does not include sufficient workforce protections, including ironclad requirements that developers who tap into housing bond money pay prevailing wages and hire local workers, she said.
If the government is trying to help ensure workers can afford to live near their jobs, “we simply cannot scrimp on these things,” Hirshfield said.