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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | North Bay / Marin | Health, Housing, and Public Services
Sonoma County Rent Crisis and the Effect on Millennials
Investigative Research on Sonoma County's Rent Crisis and the effect it is having on millennials.
Sonoma County’s Rent Crisis and the Effect on Millennials
Sonoma State University
Ross Galleto, Kristina Jaco, Iyla Knight,
Nathalie Marquez, Kendyl Saxby, and Emilia Sides
In this paper, we discuss the affect the rent crisis in Sonoma County is having on the millennial generation with the goal of finding solutions to this growing issue. Data was collected through the implementation of qualitative data and secondary data analysis. Interviews were conducted in different millennial groups, including students and young families in Sonoma County, to better understand the direct effect high rent prices in a location with an incredibly low vacancy rate has on them. Information on solutions to the rent crisis was collected through secondary data analysis and interviews with local activists, government workers, and developers. Our findings conclude that millennials are having a harder time than ever finding proper and affordable living conditions, and as a result there are more 18-30 year olds living at home, homeless, or living in unhealthy conditions. We also found that this is affecting more than just the type of home people rent. It concerns their mental and physical health, their children’s life and education, and the community in Sonoma County. We discovered several solutions to this crisis including, rent control, just cause eviction, easing restrictions on granny units, elimination of in lieu fees, an increase in inclusionary zoning, and an increase in affordable housing development.
The purpose of this research paper is to discover the difficulties that millennials are facing in regards to affordable housing in Sonoma County. This topic is extremely important to the entire community and the issues surrounding the housing crisis have been well documented in the local paper, The Press Democrat, as well as other notable publications. The more specific information that we wanted to discover is how millennials are coping with living in the ever so unaffordable county of Sonoma. It’s also important to hear what our policymakers and community activists are doing to help the continued crisis. Millennials share an important role in our community and it is important that they are able to afford to continue to live here. If our county doesn't take action against the housing crisis, we will all lose an important generation of citizens including students and young families who provide diversity and individuality to our community.
Sonoma County Rental Market
Sonoma County has made it onto the top 10 list of communities in the United States for the most extreme housing shortages for the year of 2016. (Digitale, 2017) There are roughly 186,935 households in Sonoma County with 75,516 renters making it 40% a renter’s market. For a one-bedroom unit the housing wage is at $20.96. Housing wage is the wage, per hour, you need to earn to pay no more than 30% of your income on rent. Minimum wage is currently at $10.00 an hour in California. Due to this discrepancy 54.55% of residents are “rent overburdened”, meaning they are paying more than 30% of their income on rent. (Digitale, 2017) “…rents are still too expensive for low income households, which make less than the housing wage of $41,640 required to rent a typical two-bedroom apartment. In hourly terms, this means $21.32 per hour (assuming one full-time wage earner for a family of three) or an average of $10.66/hour with two full-time earners.” (Rhee, 2003)
To make matters worse, the vacancy rate of rentals is at an all-time low. In Santa Rosa, the vacancy rate is at just 1%. The average on Sonoma County is around 3%. In large part this is due to the lack of housing units being built since the 2008 financial crisis. This has manifested into many other issues including unjust evictions and a homelessness rate of nearly 10,000 people. (Hart, 2014) Between the years of 2008-2016 the county’s population grew by 27,000 people, but only 6,300 housing units were built in that same time period.” (Digitale, 2016) As a result people are trapped into situations where there rent is increased at exorbitant rates and the living situations are unhealthy, but due to lack of rentals on the market people do not have any alternatives other than leaving the area. (Hart, 2016) In the last 5 years, the rent for an average two-bedroom apartment has increased by 49% to $2,122 a month.” (Digitale, 2016)
Millennials and the Housing Market
This is an issue that is affecting everyone, but there is one group that is being hit particularly hard- millennials. Millennials include anyone born between 1980-2000. In Sonoma County, there has been a 320% increase in homelessness amongst youth in five years according to Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane in 2014. (Hart, 2014) Millennials were hit particularly hard by the 2008 Great Recession. The job market was at an all-time low, and the first to be let go were young inexperienced employees. It also made it extremely difficult for young adults entering the job market. Another contributing factor is that millennials are less likely to get married, meaning they won't have two incomes to help pay for rent. (Rugaber, 2016) Along with the recession, students are becoming burdened by student loans. The average student loan debt upon graduation is $33,000. In 2012, 284,00 recent college graduates were working minimum wage jobs. Despite millennials being more educated, they are also more likely to live in poverty as compared to their 1980s counterparts. (Bowden, 2015)
Due to these issues, it is particularly difficult for millennials to find affordable housing. About one-third of millennials live with their parents. In fact, living with a parent is more common than any other living arrangement (Figure 1). (Fry, 2016) Millennials are more likely to live in multigenerational households than the elderly. (Rampell,2016) As a result, many millennials are having difficulty in other aspects of their lives as well and while there have been ideas on how to solve this issue the progress has been excruciatingly slow.
Millennial Families and the Housing Market
Finding affordable housing in Sonoma County has continued to be a problem for millennials, specifically young families. The inability to find affordable housing has left families to downsize their living arrangements and has left some families homeless. Even when a family was able to find a home to rent and set at a price they can afford, there were very few rentals available (Hart 2014). Not being able to find a place to rent has given families the ultimatum to have to relocate to other cities in Sonoma County where there could be a possibility of finding a home or apartment to rent for affordable prices (Barrera 2015). In 2016, Sonoma County was categorized as one of the “Top 10 Least Affordable Places to Live” in the country (Sheridan 2016). Napa, Marin, and Sonoma County all share high priced homes and apartments for rent (Scheide 2004).
As populations in Sonoma County continue to grow more families have chosen this county as the ideal location to start and raise a family, but with growing families comes the need for more housing to be built. Sonoma County has been unsuccessful with building enough housing as the population continues to expand (Barrera 2015). In 2014, the board of supervisors developed an affordable housing plan for the next 10 years focusing on building low income units for those in a crisis of finding affordable housing (Hart 2014). Governor Jerry Brown set forth a new direction for the funding of building more housing and discontinued Redevelopment Agencies that allow local governments to use funds from development projects and build more housing (Barrera 2015).
In order for a family to afford living in Sonoma County their wage must increase in order to be consistent with the increase of housing prices. In 1996 to purchase a home, a middle class family had to make a wage of $28.54 an hour while in 2002 they had to make a wage of $52.03 an hour to have the ability to purchase a home (Scheide 2004).
After the Great Recession, middle class families were impacted and many jobs were lost (Hart 2014). Many families specifically in the Sonoma Valley area have obtained an education and considered themselves to be above the poverty line, but did not feel that they could achieve having a stable and affordable home (Sheridan 2016).
A study that was conducted in 2016 ranked Sonoma County as the 15th county with renters that had felt weighed heavily on how much money citizens had to pay for housing (Sheridan 2016). A new concept that has been contributing to alleviating the strains of being able to afford rent is creating accessory units, otherwise known as granny units. For individuals having the desire to rent especially for younger families, being able to rent a granny unit can be more affordable than renting an apartment (Sheridan 2017). In 2014, the vacancy rate of rentals had reached 1.5% resulting in about 10,000 people becoming homeless all over Sonoma County (Hart 2014).
Just last year, apartments ranging of about $1,813 rose by 7.6% that were considered average sized apartments. Two bedrooms and one-bath apartments starting at $1, 723 increased by 7.7% (Digitale 2016). Many of the families that are able to afford the expenses of living in Sonoma County are older aged couples that are retired and finding Sonoma County to the ideal location for retirement (Sheridan 2016). An average of 40% of homes intended for families are owned by a single individual who in most cases is elderly. This has placed a damper on young families who are on the market to rent or purchase their first home (Barrera 2015).
A great percentage of families that live in Sonoma County are working class families specifically farm working families (Buffo 2016). Specifically in Healdsburg, the vineyards have at least one farm worker 10 acres (Beckwith 2015). Unfortunately, Healdsburg did not provide adequate living spaces for these workers and resulted in these workers and families being squeezed into friend and families’ homes (Beckwith 2015).
Not only have parents within families been affected by the high price of housing in Sonoma County, but also children. In the town of Petaluma, there has been a shortage of housing for families, which has resulted in children having to move to different schools causing a decrease in enrollment for these schools (Barrera 2015).
In 2015, Petaluma’s McDowell Elementary School enrollment had decreased by 220 students because families with children attending this school were not able to continue to afford the cost of their homes (Barrera 2015). Another risk some families may experience is having landlords who might consider selling their home instead of allowing a family to continue to rent (Sheridan 2016). An option that some families had to resort to was to commute to Sonoma County where their jobs and schools were located due to the shortage of affordable housing (Sheridan 2016).
Burbank Housing Program and Housing Projects for Sonoma County
It is the state law for all cities located in Sonoma County to have a plan for low-income housing (Hart 2014). Although it is important for a plan to be generated, Sonoma County’s problem is not having the space and land to create more housing, but rather not raising wages and salaries of people who are not paid enough to afford housing in Sonoma County as the prices continue to raise (Barrera 2015). Within the past five years renting prices have increased to about 49.5% (Digitale 2016). Of those families who rent, 87.4% have an income of less than $20,000 in a year while only 11% make up $75,000 (Digitale 2016).
One housing program that has been well known to many families is Burbank Housing. They offer 2847 rental units, have built 815 homes and 86 communities, and 229 currently being developed (Burbank Housing web). Homes are offered to families, seniors, and people with disabilities (Burbank Housing web). Burbank Housing is able to produce housing for roughly 10,000 people with a number of resources within this community such as after school programs, giving free food, health and wellness classes, and other activities for families and seniors (Burbank Housing web). Although Burbank Housing provides many resources and homes for low-income people, the problem that arises from this source of affordable housing is the waiting list of many families hoping to have a home they can rent (Hart 2014).
Sonoma County’s Planning Commission has one possible housing development that is currently being reviewed for construction (Kallen 2017). These apartments named Altamira Family Apartments will have 49 apartment units and a community room for residents to access (Kallen 2017). Within the 49 apartment units available, there will be 22 single bedrooms, 14 double bedrooms, and 13 triple bedrooms (Kallen 2017). Sixteen of those bedrooms will be accessible to low income families (Kallen 2017). Another possible construction of apartments for low-income families is said to create 12 apartments located at 19410 Sonoma Highway in hopes to provide more housing opportunities for low-income families (Kallen 2017).
The first research method used for our project consisted of in-depth interviews and questionnaires. We came up with five sets of interview questions that were individually tailored to the group with whom we would be interviewing. These groups were; Families, Developers/Landlords, College Students/Recent Graduates, Policymakers/Government Officials, and Activists. Those interviewed included elected city officials, non-profit staff members and community residents. The questionnaires were mostly given to young adult students and young families residing in Sonoma County.
a. Annie Lee- Field Coordinator for the Fair & Affordable Housing Campaign
b. Elece Hempel- Executive Director of Petaluma People Services Center
c. John Haig- Assistant Executive Director for the Community Development Division
d. Margie Cantwell- Founder of LiveYourDreamAwake.org
e. One Freshman From Sonoma State
f. Rohnert Park Millennial, wife and mother
g. Rohnert Park Landlord
h. Sebastopol Millennial and mother of two
i. Santa Rosa Millennial, wife and mother
j. Santa Rosa Landlord
k. Three Juniors from Sonoma State
l. Three Seniors From Sonoma State
The housing crisis in Sonoma County is affecting people on many different levels. However, the impact of the housing crisis on students attending Sonoma State is quite major. Students are being affected on all different levels, some more heavily than others.
The average student loan debt, as of 2015, for students attending Sonoma State is $20,779, however 51% of graduates not have any debt from student loans. The average student is only making minimum wage, meaning that for them to be able to afford a 1-bedroom apartment at fair market rent they would need to be working 89 hours per week. Obviously, this is an unrealistic number for most people to be working, let alone a student going to class full time.
The Press Democrat wrote an article in 2012 about the cost of living in Santa Rosa being an average $1,400 a month, considering the increase in housing over the past couple years we know this number is low (Kovner, 2012). When looking through the ads on craigslist most 2 bedroom apartments are more likely to be around $2,000 a month with one bedroom apartments being more around $1,500 a month.
In interviews with current students attending Sonoma State the outlook is fairly grim, with the majority of students having serious issues trying to make their rent as well as other expenses each month. One student shared that she had to be very conscious of how many times she went out to eat or go socialize with friends each month, stating she even would sell her clothing as well as other items to help generate spare cash. The same student also talked about how she had to take more hours at her job when her rent went up which had a very negative effect on her grades.
The impact that these housing issues have on students can effect their life on a large scale and on a daily basis. One student disclosed that they had been forced to uproot their lives in Rohnert Park and move in with family in Petaluma because they were unable to make their rent. Leaving friends, as well as their job and completely disrupting their daily routine that they had become accustomed to. This had an overall negative effect on their grades and mental health due to the high stress they were feeling from the move and change in their life.
When students were asked what they would use their money for if their rent was cut in half, the answers were fairly interesting. Some were fairly expected, talking about paying off school debts as well as their own credit cards, as well as simply being able to be less strict with their monthly budget. However one student pointed out that if she could she would save up her money to be able to buy a house, putting her monthly mortgage payments at less than what she paid for her rent. This is interesting when contemplating the overall housing crisis in Sonoma County, that because people cannot save and therefor buy property they are also affecting the real estate market in our area.
Families and Housing in Sonoma County
The housing crisis in Sonoma County is also affecting young families who are trying to live a healthy and affordable life in the many communities here. If families cannot afford to live here and are being forced to leave the county, it puts unfair stress on the entire family, especially on the children. To find out how exactly families are being affected by the rising housing costs, we found several young families to interview and get to the bottom of their personal experiences and problems they have.
Millennial Families Interview Findings
To further our research on millennial families and the difficulties of finding affordable housing in Sonoma County we conducted a series of interview questions. These questions reflected demographics, income, rent increase, job occupation, and level of education. Ten families participated for the interview session and decided to remain anonymous.
A family consisting of a single mother and son shared the experience of living in Sonoma County. The mother is currently in school while raising her son to the best of her abilities. Her monthly income is $2,400 working as a waitress and unfortunately her job does not provide her with any benefits such as sick leave, disability, or maternity leave. If she becomes injured or sick for any reason she will lose the opportunity to pay rent for the month. As a single and young mother she does not have anyone to rely on, but herself. One fourth of her income goes to rent while also managing to pay for groceries, car insurance, and provide her son with anything he may need. She mentioned that her rent increase at least $100 every year, “It is extremely difficult to live in Sonoma County. Everything is so expensive, it’s hard to find somewhere with decent rent.” In order to accommodate to the high rent prices in Sonoma County she mentioned, “I have to work more hours to be able to pay rent and I have less time to socialize.” She also mentioned that she does not receive assistance from any government or housing programs.
Similar experiences were shared with the next family interviewed. Another single mother of 24 with two children discussed how she constantly faced the burden of the high rental prices in Sonoma County. Sixty percent of her income goes directly to rent as her rent continues to increase by $200 to $300. She mentioned, “It is hard to live here because everything keeps going up and jobs are not paying good. It is hard for single parents with only one income because even though they work, a lot of assistance programs will say they make too much income and won’t help.” This is a reality many families experience in Sonoma County.
In terms of accommodating her life to living in Sonoma County she used to work nights, but had to find a job where she could work during the day because she did not have someone to care for her children while at work. Now she is forced to pay daycare fees and add another bill to her list of expenses. If a bill is not able to be payed, her main priority is to at least pay for rent and groceries.
One family who was interviewed rents a three-bedroom house in Rohnert Park and lives with her husband and two young children. They both work full time and receive benefits and feel lucky to be able to live in the house that they do. They pay well below the market price for a three-bedroom house with a garage and backyard in a nice neighborhood of Rohnert Park only playing $1800 a month without utilities. She says she and her husband try and negotiate a two-year lease every time their previous lease expires so that they can keep their rent low. Their landlords increase their rent by at least $100 every two years and she notes that they do not make improvements on the house with the extra rent money they receive.
They have lived in the same house for 10 years and their landlords have hardly made any improvements in that past decade. She doesn’t feel comfortable asking for things to be fixed because she doesn’t want to give them any reason to stop renting to her and her family. Just a few weeks ago she noticed mold on the bottom of her daughter's mattress. As a professional who works in the real estate industry she knew that the only cause of that is due to standing water underneath her house. She reported the situation to her landlords but is still waiting on them to do anything about it. She also mentioned that the amount of cleaning she has to do on a weekly basis is a major issue to just to keep the mold off the windows and around the sliding glass door to the backyard. The unhealthy and potentially dangerous levels of mold found in her home worries her knowing her children live under its roof.
When asked about the difficulty for she and her family to live in Sonoma County she said;
“We can't afford to buy in Sonoma County, and we have a really reasonable rent for a single family home - we have lived here for 10 years. For us, it is not that difficult to live here, but it is certainly difficult to thrive here, and start building equity in the county.”
Although her family is able to afford living here, thanks to her extremely affordable rent, she still acknowledges the fact that she and her husband may never be able to purchase and own their own home in the county that they love and have build a foundation. Not only can they not afford to save money to buy a home but they also can’t afford things like family vacations or other fun activities for her children and their family;
“We live on a budget, and must live within our means. We are not able to take vacations, or buy new cars. We must put the majority of our money back into our daily budget, and save as best as we can for the future. We do not make enough to have "fun" money.”
The money that they take in each month goes into a strict, cash only budget for the family. They always pay their fixed expenses first including their rent, car payment, cable, cellphone bill, PG&E and other insurance. Anything leftover from that is for gas and groceries. She says that they decided to become a cash only family about two years ago and do not have any credit cards anymore which solidifies the necessity for staying on budget and living within their means.
Another woman interviewed is a 26 year old mother of two living in the town of Sebastopol with her partner. She is a college graduate and she and her partner are renting a condo with which they spend about a third of their income on per month. Her mom owns the rental property they are living in and she says they get a break on rent because of that. When asked how difficult it is to live in Sonoma County she says,
“It is becoming increasingly difficult due to the cost of living. We moved out of the East Bay because we wanted to raise our children in a family friendly community, and we couldn't keep up with the cost of living in the East Bay. However, it's becoming increasingly difficult to be a single income family and still make ends meet. I know many single moms and families that have lived here for 20+ years and cannot afford rent here any longer. They end up homeless and on various forms of government assistance despite working full time and taking small part time jobs on the side.”
The original plan was for her to be a stay at home mom for as long as she could once they moved back to Sonoma County but she has instead had to accommodate her life in order to provide the best for her children,
“I will be going back to work in order to afford preschool for our 3 year old. The original plan when we moved back was for me to stay home for a while, but it looks like I'll be going back to work much sooner so that my son can have the social and educational experiences necessary for children his age. The cost of preschool has risen exponentially in the last 10 years because the cost of living has risen and preschools need to keep their facilities and pay their teachers.“
She believes that the community and fellowship with others is significantly decreasing due to the cost of living driving families out of the area.
Landlords and Developers
To be able to find affordable housing in Sonoma County has been very rare these last few years. It is not only affecting everyone who lives here, but particularly millennials in general. The past couple of years, the cost to live in Sonoma County keeps increasing dramatically. With the high rents and the average median to purchase a home of $550,000, it is making it extremely difficult for millennials to continue to live here. Many young people come to Sonoma County because it is a great area to raise a family. At the same time, it is pushing many young people away due to the high rent costs and moving to places that are more affordable (Rahaim 2017).
In order for more affordable housing options to happen there needs to be more programs like the Sonoma County Community Commission Development. They are dedicated to helping low to middle class families find a home that they can afford. Majority of millennials are considered low to middle class, so having a program like this that can assist them on finding affordable housing can be a huge success. Not only do they provide affordable housing assistance, but they also strengthen neighborhood and community preservation such as sidewalks, streets, and drainage systems (Sonoma County Community Commission Development). By having something like this in place already, they should have an area that is directed towards millennials in college or that have already graduated and help to assist them in finding affordable housing. Not only for places to rent, but possibly helping them purchase their first home.
In Santa Rosa, there is about $3 million in subsidies the city is making available start construction on affordable housing. (McCallum 2017). They are getting substantial interest from developers on the start of this construction. The city has received applications from eight developers who say they could use the funds to get their projects under construction, some as early as this fall (McCallum 2017). Much needed affordable housing units will hopefully be built to help fix the housing crisis here in Sonoma County. The affordable housing units will help get the average cost of a single bedroom apartment down. The average cost of renting an apartment in Sonoma County is $1962. The average apartment rent over the prior 6 months in Santa Rosa has increased by $61 (3.2%) One bedroom units have increased by $60 (3.6%) and two bedroom apartments have increased by $24 (1.2%) (Rent Jungle). There is hope that at least one of these developers will get approved and start building units early spring 2018.
Areas in Sonoma County with land to build on need to need to find ways to utilize the land so local developers can start building. There are many places in Sonoma County that will make exceptional housing communities, such as the former Sutter Medical Center off Chanate Road in Santa Rosa. There is talk that one local developer wants to purchase this site and start the build of as many as 800 new housing units (Morris).To help fix the housing crisis here in Sonoma County steps like these need to keep moving forward to help solve the problem. It’s unclear how much housing the site will contain, or how much of it would be set aside as affordable units, but the idea of building new housing was praised by supervisors (Hart 2015). By continuing to build more affordable units will help get millennials the kind of rent they need to help them live in this area.
There are steps that need to be taken into consideration to fix the housing crisis in Sonoma County. There are a few barriers that comes with building more affordable homes for low to middle class and that is coming up with more developable land to build on. Right now, land is very limited, so that is making the raw cost more expensive, especially in Santa Rosa. Then there are permit fees and costs that are still very high. If we can get some of these to decrease it will help bring the prices down.
In Sonoma County, the average cost of renting an apartment is $1934. Within the past few years the prices of rent keep increasing dramatically. With the lack of available units, this makes it harder on the renter to find housing. The vacancy rate was at its lowest ever last fall at less than three percent. Usually this rate is a much higher number. With this, landlords can set stricter requirements on who is qualified for housing and who is not.
When landlords were asked what type of renter do they look for they all said someone who has a good credit score, proof of employment, and makes three times more than what the rent costs.
However, majority of millennials aren’t making three times more than the average rent cost right after graduating college. Making it even more difficult for them to find housing. When and if they do find housing, they must have multiple roommates and in some cases, may need a parent to co-sign on the lease with them.
When asked how often they can change the rent cost on their tenants, their answers were as expected. Landlords can change the prices of their rent price whenever they want, but it has to happen after the lease is up and it can fluctuate between tenants. Property managements advise against raising the rent prices on their units because it makes it harder for the landlords to find another renter if the price of rent keeps increasing dramatically.
After speaking with a property management company, I asked how much control they have over the rent and list price of homes in Sonoma County, they stated that there are regulations that are in place that if a landlord does raise the rent by a lot that they need to fill out a loads of paperwork for them to get what they are asking. When asked what possible solutions are for the rent crisis in Sonoma County, majority of them had the same idea. In order for rent control to go down, there needs to be more available units for the people. That means they need to start building more units that can expand its supply. Also building more units that are supported by the state will lead to more affordable housing prices. If the law changes and has more restrictions, it will drive out of town investors away and they will go build their expensive homes somewhere else. The housing crisis in Sonoma County is one of the biggest challenges we are all facing. It’s a huge issue and problem and it is affecting everyone who lives here. This isn’t something that can be fixed over-night, it’s going to take time. As long people work together and head in the right direction this issue can be solved.
Policymakers and Government Officials
The involvement of government and political interests in the movements towards tenant rights and rent stabilization has been a controversial issue for all sides of the argument. The current state of federal and local government has often had people concerned about closed door meetings and influences on outcomes of votes on hot topics like rent stabilization that has money to back up the opinions of non-supporters. Rent stabilization is a hot topic across America, and with the cost of living already being higher in Sonoma County than many other areas of the country, it is an issue that will soon be a discussion for most local government agencies to discuss and decide on.
The rent stabilization issue came to government standing in Sonoma County in May 2016 when Santa Rosa City Council voted with a 4-3 ruling to adopt a city ordinance putting rent stabilization in place. This law also put a companion law in place protecting from unjust evictions of tenants. This original law set in place a cap on the amount that rent could be raised in certain dwellings annually. However, it did not affect single-family homes or condominiums because of a state law blocking local ordinances from setting controls in place.
Shortly after this was adopted, paid signature gatherers were deployed to try and block the vote of the city council. After gather 12,524 signatures, there were concerns of the lack of valid signatures and the information provided to those who were signing. These signatures left the city council with the choice to either repeal their original decision or put the issue up to a vote.
The council who had been divided before on the issue of rent stabilization did unanimously vote 6-0 in favor of putting the decision up to voters on the future of a rent control ordinance in Santa Rosa. Because of this Santa Rosa voters have the decision to make on Measure C, on whether the city will uphold rent stabilization efforts and stricter rules for evicting tenants, or continue without protection for consumers in the city.
There are solutions available to solve this growing problem. Interviews with local activists focused on Sonoma County’s housing crisis has revealed several courses of actions that can be implemented to help bring forward much needed affordable housing. The rent crisis in Sonoma County has gotten to the point where just one solution can’t fix the problem.
Annie Lee, the Field Coordinator for the Fair & Affordable Housing Campaign, stressed the importance of getting creative when thinking of solutions for Sonoma County. The Fair & Affordable Housing Campaign is working on Yes for C, a measure that is “focused on reinstating rent stabilization and just cause eviction policies in the city of Santa Rosa”, Annie says. This measure is up for vote in Santa Rosa on June 6th, 2017. Annie believes that while this will help with the rent crisis, it is only a small part of the solution. It is something everyday people can understand and get behind, opening the door to more viable solutions for the county. Part of the reason Measure C is limited solution is because it only “affects multi-unit (triplexes which are not owner occupied, and larger) complexes built before 1995 and does NOT affect landlords who are renting single family dwellings,” according to Annie. Measure C will do two important things: 1. It will limit the amount landlords can raise rents to only 3% a year, and 2. It will enact Just Cause Evictions. Just Cause Evictions states that a landlord must have a reason to evict a tenant such as, criminal activity, nuisance, violations of the obligations of tenancy, nonpayment of rent, habitual late payment of rent, refusal to renew tenancy, failure to provide access, demolition, capital improvement plans, compliance with a governmental order, and if the landlord or relative of the landlord decides to move in.
Elece Hempel, the executive director of Petaluma People Services Center, believes that we need to implement a “multifaceted approach”. One thing Petaluma People Services Center has done to help with Sonoma’s rent crisis is the SHARE program. The SHARE program will bring together seniors who have access to housing, with those that need housing. This will help open the market. Another solution the helps not only the millennial generation but also the elderly, is by providing Sonoma County with more Senior Living centers allowing seniors the freedom to sell or rent out their single-family homes.
Accessory Dwelling Units
Annie and Elece also brought up the need to encourage more granny units to homeowners and easing the restrictions on “accessory dwelling units”. Changes have recently been proposed and are headed to the Santa Rosa Planning Commission in the next few months. Some of the proposals are, increasing the size of granny units from 700 square feet to 1,200 square feet, so that it is more accommodating to couples. Restricting the rental of these units to a minimum of 30 days, as a way to ensure the use for more long-term housing rather than vacation rentals, such as Airbnb. Also, reducing the requirement that an owner live in either the granny unit or the main house, giving the property more flexibility. The fees to build granny units would need to be lowered. Although it is cheaper to build a granny unit that a single-family home, it is not by much (McCallum, 2017).
Millennials in Sonoma County are struggling to survive in the rent market that is beyond their means. It is affecting their living situations, their families lives, their mental and physical health, and their career opportunities. This issue has reached the point where everyone is being hurt by the high rent prices and finally creative solutions are beginning to emerge. Unfortunately, while these solutions are surfacing they are not coming to fruition fast enough and people are still being forced out of the county. Families are still having to yank their children out of extracurricular activities. People are unable to afford both rent and medication they need for health issues. People are forced to live in conditions that are harmful to their physical health. In order for this major issue to truly be resolved everyone must take an active role in making a change.
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