Sonoma County Latino leaders host discussion on housing inequality

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Sonoma County economy since 2011

Wages increased 6 percent

Rents jumped 32 percent

Home prices soared 58 percent

Median home price in February, $650,000

Median household income in 2017, $80,409

Median income of $138,760 needed to afford a home of $640,000

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; California Association of Realtors; Patrick Kallerman, research director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute

Nearly half of Sonoma County’s Latino households spend more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing, a crippling financial burden that modest wage increases here in recent years have failed to alleviate, a Bay Area economic researcher Thursday told a group of local Latino leaders.

Patrick Kallerman, research director for the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, said since 2011 monthly home rents and purchase prices have increased countywide by 32 percent and 58 percent, respectively, while average wages only rose 6 percent.

Kallerman, keynote speaker at the monthly luncheon of local Latino leadership group Los Cien, said many residents are paying far more than 30 percent of their income on housing-related expenses.

“That number kind of masks that many, many folks are paying more than that,” he said. “They’re paying 40, 50, sometimes 60-plus percent of their household incomes on housing costs.”

At the heart of the county’s housing crunch is a lack of construction, with many local municipalities falling well below their homebuilding goals. “If we continue to underbuild, it will only be the rich who can afford to own homes,” Kallerman said.

According to his analysis of 2017 U.S. Census estimates, the overall homeownership rate in Sonoma County was 62 percent. However, that rate was 39.1 percent for Latinos. By comparison, the statewide homeownership rate for Latinos was 44.4 percent.

The discussion at the Los Cien luncheon was a continuation of the group’s discussion of the local housing crisis, which is forcing many minorities and low-income residents to live in cramped or substandard homes. Or it’s impossible for those residents to buy a home and forcing some to leave the North Bay altogether because of high rents.

In November, the state’s housing czar Ben Metcalf was guest speaker at a Los Cien forum. Many Latino leaders had asked Metcalf, director of the state Department of Housing and Community Development, for assurances minority and low-income residents would not be left out of the large, publicly financed rebuilding effort underway since the 2017 wildfires.

Metcalf oversees the distribution of millions of dollars in federal housing grants, including $212 million pegged for disaster wildfire housing recovery efforts across the state.

The forum Thursday also included a panel talking about housing inequality. The discussion was moderated by Karin Demarest, vice president for programs at Community Foundation Sonoma County, and featured Efren Carrillo, director of government and community relations for nonprofit Burbank Housing, and Peter Rumble, CEO of business membership group Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, as well as Kallerman.

During the conversation, Rumble said the Santa Rosa chamber was launching a housing trust as part of its work with the Sonoma County Employer Housing Council, formed last year by the chamber and the North Coast Builders Exchange.

The housing trust, which already has attracted financial commitments of $5 million, will provide low-cost financing to help spur housing construction projects, Rumble said after the luncheon. The trust will help advance home building across a range of pricing levels, from affordable to market-priced houses. He said additional money is being sought from philanthropic organizations and private donors.

Rumble also cited a recent move by Santa Rosa City Schools, the county’s largest public school district, to reduce its developer impact fees on new housing as an example of policy changes that could lead to more residential construction.

On Wednesday, the Santa Rosa City School Board adopted a high-density residential incentive program that includes a reduction in home-construction impact fees for the school district similar to the decrease in fees approved in September by the Santa Rosa City Council for downtown area development.

Under the city school district’s program, multilevel apartment projects built downtown in areas that limit building heights to 7 to 10 stories pay school facilities fees for only the first three floors.

For developments built in a number of other city zoning areas, impact fees for projects that propose three or more stories, with at least two stories for residential use, will be calculated based on the first two residential floors. Additional residential floors will be exempt from school district impact fees.

After Thursday’s forum, Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm called the candid discussion on the local housing challenges a necessary conversation that should involve the entire community.

“It’s a communitywide issue and it needs to be a communitywide response,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressfish.

Sonoma County economy since 2011

Wages increased 6 percent

Rents jumped 32 percent

Home prices soared 58 percent

Median home price in February, $650,000

Median household income in 2017, $80,409

Median income of $138,760 needed to afford a home of $640,000

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau; California Association of Realtors; Patrick Kallerman, research director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute

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