Rising rents threaten to change character of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park
Tom Hutchins was 9 when his family moved in 1988 from Grass Valley in the Sierra Nevada foothills to a modest Santa Rosa home on San Sonita Drive in Coffey Park. He has fond memories of “cruising the neighborhood” with his friends, “hanging out at the railroad tracks, riding my bike off jumps.”
After four years renting on San Sonita, his parents bought a place on Crestview Drive. That house burned, along with more than 1,400 other Coffey Park homes consumed by the Tubbs fire in October 2017. Hutchins’ parents expect to be back in a new house there by July.
His wife, Sarah Giometti, the founder of Rohnert Park-based Provaro Marketing, donates her time and talents to the neighborhood support group Coffey Strong, even though they live 30 miles north in Cloverdale.
“I could live there again,” Hutchins said, “but the simple fact is, Coffey Park isn’t the same Coffey Park anymore, because of the prices. We’re looking at $2,500 to three grand a month to live there. I’d rather live in Cloverdale. I have more property, and my rent’s cheaper.”
Like his wife, Hutchins runs a successful business. It’s not that they’re unable to pay that kind of rent. They’re simply unwilling.
The fire’s unimaginable toll on this 1-square-mile Santa Rosa neighborhood has been well-publicized, as has its inspiring recovery.
“This was a pretty close-knit community before the fire,” said John Allen of APM Homes, which is building 75 houses in Coffey Park. “The way it’s come together since then is simply unprecedented.”
While Coffey Park has gained a stronger sense of community since the inferno, questions are being raised as families move back in, about what it may be leaving behind. As it gets more expensive, the neighborhood is losing some of its middle-class roots. Before the fire, some 40% of the homes were rentals. Because many of those houses were about 30 years old, they rented for around $2,000 a month, sometimes less.
“We’ve been watching them come back on the market for $2,800, $3,000,” Giometti said. “I get that it’s a new house, but to be blunt ... it’s ridiculous right now.
“This has always been an entry-level, working-class neighborhood,” she said, “but I don’t think you’re going to see the same families coming back. Coffey Park is going to lose some of the character that people liked about it.”
The character of the neighborhood is “absolutely” going to change, said Keith Becker, owner of the property management firm DeDe’s Rentals. Longtime Coffey Park tenants, those who’d rented “five or eight years or more,” were paying just under $2,000. When those houses are rebuilt, Becker said, “they’re not by any stretch of the imagination going to come back at $2,000. A three-bedroom house, almost anywhere in Sonoma County right now, is a whole lot closer to $2,750.”
Not only will rental homes be more expensive, there will fewer of them. In the wake of the Great Recession that began in December 2007, some opportunistic buyers snatched up Coffey Park houses on the cheap, then rented them out. Because those properties tended to be underinsured, said Jeff Okrepkie, president and founder of Coffey Strong, owners were more likely to sell after the fire.