Following the collapse of efforts to place a countywide affordable housing bond on the November ballot, Santa Rosa appears poised to go it alone.
The City Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to advance a city-only affordable housing bond, likely somewhere between $80 million and $180 million.
The size of the bond will depend on the results of additional polling to determine what voters will support, work Councilwoman Julie Combs called finding the “sweet spot.”
Whatever figure is eventually selected, council members made it clear that the success of such a bond was their top priority, even at the expense of other revenue measures to prevent possible budget cuts or upgrade city roads and buildings.
Councilman Tom Schwedhelm in particular made a point of separating the housing bond from the other revenue options the council is considering for the fall, voting against advancing a sales tax measure or a bed tax increase in order to boost the housing bond’s chances of passing.
“(The housing bond) is the most important thing, and I am very leery of doing anything that would put it at stake,” Schwedhelm said.
The theme of prioritizing the housing bond ran throughout the meeting. A parade of housing advocates and residents of affordable housing urged the council to keep the housing bond separate from other revenue measures, and to keep the bond solely focused on housing.
There has been some consideration of crafting a bond measure that would pay for both housing and other city infrastructure needs. Examples of the latter included repairing potholes, sidewalks and firefighting infrastructure, as well as funding for recreation centers, playgrounds and libraries.
But those additional needs were seen by some as detracting from the core goal of the bond, potentially risking its success. Housing advocates were having none of it.
Larry Florin, chief executive officer of Burbank Housing, the largest local provider of affordable housing, said the wait list for its 3,000 units has swelled to more than 15,000, with people desperate for housing filling the organization’s lobby daily.
“You have a historic moment before you right now to be able to do something about this,” Florin said. “Please take the courageous vote and move forward with the housing-only bond.”
A city staff report estimated that $80 million could generate 593 new units of housing, while $180 million could build 1,333 units when the local dollars are leveraged to attract state and federal dollars.
The bond would be paid for by Santa Rosa property taxes over 26 years, and would cost $19 per $100,000 in assessed value for the $80 million bond or $43 per $100,000 in assessed value for the $180 million option.
Florin and others suggested the housing production figures were very conservative, with matching opportunities much higher than city estimates.
The new 60-unit complex in Fetters Hots Springs cost $28.5 million, but just $2.5 million in local funds were contributed to the project, the balance coming from state and federal funds, said Alicia Gaylord, director of housing for MidPen Housing Corp., which developed the project.
The focus on the success of the housing bond was so strong that two council members, Schwedhelm and Jack Tibbetts, wouldn’t support any further consideration of a six-year, quarter-cent sales tax to raise $9 million annually for general city operations, concerned it would give voters too many other choices.