Anyone and everyone with a sense of awareness knows there is a shortage of housing in Sonoma County.
Many believe the recent fires are the cause of the problem. However, they are not. The fires exacerbated a matter that was already out of control. The elimination of more than 5,200 homes, as a result of the fires, certainly has added to, but has not caused, the problem.
For many years, Petaluma was one of the leaders in providing moderate- and low-cost housing through the bonding capacity of the Petaluma redevelopment agency. The incremental property tax stream that came to Petaluma through the curing of blighted conditions created prevailing-wage jobs and an ever-increasing property tax base as well as a pool of housing.
Petaluma has more than 1,800 moderate and low-cost housing units, but a significant project has not been added since 2012 — or since the end of redevelopment financing. The resulting shortages of housing in California was predictable, which I and others testified to at a state Assembly hearing many years ago.
Nevertheless, the state Legislature, at the urging of Gov. Jerry Brown, chose to eliminate the incremental property tax revenue and the financial flexibility provided with those segregated property taxes that were generated from land improvements such as the revitalization of Petaluma’s historic downtown.
This action allowed the state to shore up its budget during the recession, but it stripped Petaluma of $18 million per year in incremental revenue. By law, 20 percent of that revenue was set aside to provide moderate- and low-cost housing.
As a result, Petaluma has lost in excess of $3 million per year every year that the city would have been required to invest in housing.
Equally important, those funds were leveraged with matching grants from local nonprofits and federal programs. The loss of those funds has meant the loss of the capability to shelter hundreds of families. It has lessened our ability to support such programs as Petaluma People Services, Meals on Wheels, Rebuilding Together Petaluma, COTS, Mentor Me and after-school educational opportunities through the Boys and Girls Club.
The lessening, and perhaps eventually the loss, of such programs in Petaluma is typical of what has happened to virtually every community in the state. As a result of the state’s failure to restore incremental property taxes to local communities through redevelopment of blighted areas, the creation of additional housing has come to a virtual standstill in a crowded state where the birth rate exceeds the death rate, and the influx of residents exceeds the number leaving.
Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that there is a continuing and growing shortage of housing in relationship to those seeking shelter, enabling the law of limited supply and great demand to drive prices higher and higher, making Sonoma County less affordable with each passing day.
But the answer is self-evident. The state should restore the funding capability to each community with the reauthorization of redevelopment funding. Such action would benefit local economies with the construction of housing, which would address to some degree the current crisis.
I hope this column will serve as motivation for each person to contact state Sen. Bill Dodd or state Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblymen Jim Wood and Marc Levine. With their leadership, perhaps we could truly make a difference in people’s lives.