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It’s time for action on affordable housing

Posted on July 20, 2017 by Sonoma Valley Sun

We’ve written about creating affordable housing regularly for the past three years. We’ve made concrete suggestions about raising revenues, proposed new policies to stimulate housing, and offered a variety of solutions, all to no avail. At this point we’ve had to conclude that the leadership of the City of Sonoma simply is not up to the task. Either they don’t have the political courage or the willingness to come to grips with the affordable housing shortage, or, even worse, they simply don’t care.

For years now we’ve heard well-intentioned talk, but have seen no evidence of its sincerity. We accept the fact that government works slowly, and that housing crisis causes are not all local in nature, but it’s been over five years since redevelopment funding for affordable housing ended and the city has done virtually nothing to make major inroads in solving the problem. It’s long past time for the Sonoma City Council to get its act together and get something done.

If this council won’t or can’t do the job, we need to elect new council members who will. 2018 is an election year and three council seats will be up for election. We’d like to think that experience and understanding of how government works is beneficial, but at this point we’ve lost confidence in the sitting City Council’s ability to properly grasp the reins of government policy. The cute photo ops and ribbon cutting ceremonies are fine, but they don’t put anybody in new inexpensive rental units or homes available for those at or below the area median income level. Frankly, it’s time to set the frivolity aside and get serious or get out of the way and let new council members get to work.

The City Council recently attended a meeting of the California League of Cities where the City of Santa Rosa presented their comprehensive housing plan. Every one of the items they are doing are ideas we’ve suggested in the past, and not one of them has yet been made part of a housing plan for the City of Sonoma. The city initiated a Nexus study to establish the legal basis for charging a housing impact fee for new housing and commercial development, but that too is languishing at city hall. Meanwhile, housing costs continue to rise to unconscionable levels.

The only significant affordable housing project in the pipeline is in the vacant parcel across the street from Train Town, on Broadway. The city appears to be hanging its hat on this 40-plus units project as evidence that it’s actually doing something substantial, but it’s a drop in the bucket, and with resistance from the neighbors, could take years to build out. The inclusionary requirement should be raised immediately to 35 percent, and the TOT raised two or three percent in 2018 to provide funding to offset tax subsidies and fee waivers. The highest allowable housing impact fees should be codified and put in place as quickly as possible. It’s not rocket science; other municipalities are taking action and so should Sonoma.

The City of Sonoma is solidly on track to becoming a white, upper-class enclave catering to tourists by employing low-wage workers who can’t afford to live nearby. Our next generation can’t even afford to live here. It’s more than shameful, it’s a disgrace.


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