Affordable housing is a many-faceted issue that makes it challenging to fashion quick solutions that a majority of voters can support.
Absent my winning the next big Powerball and writing a check to cover the cost of 200 new low-rent apartments, the core solution (as former councilmember and mayor, Larry Barnett, has long argued) is a public and/or privately established housing fund to subsidize affordable housing construction here in one of the highest cost of living areas of the country.
The size and lifecycle of any such fund will depend on how much housing the body politic thinks is needed and/or tolerable, and how it might impact them financially and otherwise.
Morality notwithstanding, the issue is population and income-driven. Because many people want to live in Sonoma instead of, say, Sheepdip, CA, housing demand here is very high vs. the supply of digs affordable for most. Of course, that could change when the economy tanks, or if there’s a Zika outbreak.
But seldom mentioned is that many current residents otherwise sympathetic to the need for more affordable housing want housing prices to go even higher. E.g.:
(a) Those who want or need to sell their home and get the most $$ possible, especially if they paid a bundle for it,
(b) Realtors, who make bigger commissions selling high-priced housing,
(c) Builder/developers, who make more profit on market-rate housing,
(d) Banks and lenders, who make more by financing homes that cost millions vs. homes that cost thousands,
(e) Current homeowners, who want their property values to soar and build equity which many count on to finance retirement, new cars, college for kids, and/or their divorce.
(f) Landlords, for whom upscale housing justifies higher rents and brings a bigger return on investmen.
It’s composition may vary but the size of the contingent is probably pretty constant and of course includes some NIMBYs who don’t want ‘housing projects’ full of ‘those people’ dragging down property values. NIMBY’s can be politically significant if they vote or influence those who do.
Dismissing NIMBY concerns doesn’t help as much as taking them into account when fashioning affordable housing solutions. Given resident interest in enhancing the value of their own holdings, getting even wider support for a meaningful affordable housing fund may require appealing to higher sensibilities.
Major Valley employers (wine/hospitality, the school district, hospital, etc.) should be among those most interested in having workers able to live nearby in beautiful Sonoma RFD. The alternative is paying ever-higher wages to a workforce disconnected from the community and likely to quit at the first chance to take comparable jobs closer to home.
To the extent current residents may not think it important to Sonoma’s Quality of Life that their plumbers, mow-&-blow crews, trash collectors and supermarket cashiers can live nearby, it is a serious misunderstanding of what community is all about, and should be addressed in any affordable housing discussion.
Of course, if affordable housing gets built, deciding who gets first crack at it is another matter for discussion, and perhaps picketing. Should it go first to the local teacher booted to his parent’s basement after his slumlord tripled his rent? Or is his application trumped (slur intended) by the working mom of six, newly arrived from Sheepdip and living in her car?
Hopefully, Santa brings good affordable housing news soon. With a fresh progressive majority on City Council, t’is certainly the Season.