Sonoma County’s housing crisis isn’t any secret. A shortage of housing, coupled with high demand, has driven prices up and vacancy rates down.
The October fires made the situation worse, destroying in one day more houses and apartments than had been built in this county since 2011.
Numbers are important, but the human dimensions explain this crisis.
Too many parents are waving goodbye to children who grew up here but can’t afford to buy or rent in their hometown. Meanwhile, businesses struggle to recruit, and authorities shuffle homeless people from one makeshift camp to another because there aren’t enough spaces in shelters and transitional housing.
Measure N, a $124 million bond act on the Nov. 6 ballot, would help ease the housing crunch, if only in Santa Rosa.
If it’s approved, and we hope it will be, Santa Rosa would join a growing number of cities and counties investing in construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing units and supportive housing for homeless individuals, and helping prospective homebuyers make down payments.
Measure N supporters point to the success other self-help communities have had leveraging their bond money, tripling it or better with funding from other sources to get more bang for their housing buck.
“We’re talking probably 3,000 to 4,000 units of affordable housing,” said Santa Rosa City Councilman Jack Tibbetts, one of the architects of Measure N.
Three-quarters of the money would be set aside for preservation and construction of rental housing for people earning less than 80 percent of the area median income, or $78,550 annually for a family of four. The rest of the money would be earmarked for home ownership programs, such as down payment assistance and interest-free second mortgages that wouldn’t be due until a home is sold, for people earning up to 120 percent of median income, or $100,900.
Many working- and middle-class families can’t buy a home in this market without that kind of help.
Measure N also would assist fire victims, many of whom are finding that insurance won’t cover the full cost of rebuilding. They would be eligible for help under the home-ownership program.
Bonds would be a new source of housing money in Santa Rosa, but the city’s Housing Authority has plenty of experience with affordable housing projects. And there are numerous affordable housing developers in the region, including Santa Rosa-based Burbank Housing.
Measure N still has some obstacles.
One is debt service, which would paid through a property tax surcharge estimated at $29 per $100,000 of assessed value. That’s about $110 a year for an average Santa Rosa home. (Don’t confuse your assessed value with your home’s resale value, which usually is much higher.)
The initial idea was for a countywide housing bond, which would have reduced the tax bite by spreading debt service across three times as many property owners. But the county dropped out, citing opposition from agriculture and business interests.
Bonds require a two-thirds majority for approval, and Measure N supporters say their polls indicate that it’s going to be a close race.
The Santa Rosa Metro Chamber and many housing advocates support Measure N. But the North Bay Labor Council voted to oppose Measure N after the Santa Rosa City Council rejected its request to require that 10 percent of the work be reserved for union members. There are other benefits for labor in Measure N, including prevailing wage laws and a requirement for training programs. And, of course, union members aren’t immune from the high price and tight supply of local housing.