Just as our community is facing an unprecedented housing, health, and economic perfect storm, the City of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County received their $245 million PG&E settlement dollars this month – an equally unprecedented and singular opportunity to take action toward solving these crises.
As our elected leaders are deciding how to allocate these funds, it is imperative that they listen deeply to the needs of their community. During last week’s Sonoma County Supervisors meeting about how to allocate these funds, a clear theme stood out: let’s use this money for more than one-time spending and fixes. Let’s leverage it and invest in our people, our homes, and our future.
For example, Charlotte Borg, a former Sonoma State University student, who, after losing her home in the 2017 fires, explained the impact of the pandemic on her family, leaving them with only one income and mounting bills. Her voice cracked during public comment as she pleaded with the Supervisors to fund rent or housing relief measures soon. Nearly every resident who made public comments said that at least some of the PG&E settlement dollars should be used to “keep people housed.”
Here at Generation Housing (Gen H), we couldn’t agree more. We must seize this one-time opportunity to work toward solving our housing crisis, and invest in the following initiatives:
Create a COVID-19 Rent Assistance Fund. We have a moral and economic obligation to dedicate some of the PG&E settlement funds toward a rent assistance fund for our neighbors who are out of work and being left behind by the federal government. We estimate the immediate need for six months of rent relief for our Sonoma County neighbors to be $28 million.
Fully seed the Renewal Enterprise District’s Housing Fund. We have a special opportunity to seed the Renewable Enterprise District’s housing fund to seal the deal on new affordable housing developments and jobs in Sonoma County for years to come. Developers are ready to build in Sonoma but they need the government to help close the financial gap and these funds (approximately $20 million) could do that right away.
These initiatives add up to just 11 percent of the City and County’s combined PG&E settlement. That means there’s still more funding available for unmet fire recovery needs and fire prevention investments among other priorities for our region. And by investing in housing and the local jobs that come with building more housing, we can keep thousands of our neighbors in their homes, make a leap toward solving our housing crisis, and jumpstart our economic recovery.
We encourage all community members to submit comments to the County Supervisors and Santa Rosa City Council before September 4. We must keep thousands of our neighbors in their homes, make a leap toward solving our housing crisis and jumpstart our economic recovery.
Jen Klose is executive director of Generation Housing, an independent housing advocacy nonprofit based in Sonoma County.