May 22, 2017
By Alina Harway with co-chairs of Non-Profit Housing Association of Norther California: Paula Cook, Hannah Faire Scott, Bruce Shimizu, and John Lowry, who serve as co-chairs of NPH’s Sonoma County Working Group
Just as Sonoma County supporters and residents prepare to kick off Affordable Housing Week to explore opportunities and solutions for our region’s housing challenges, a new report demonstrates just how dramatically our area’s affordable housing challenges have grown.
The data, released by the California Housing Partnership, showed that Sonoma County’s rents are rising, even as wages are decreasing. In fact, the median Sonoma County rental now requires a $7,617 monthly income to afford local median asking prices. Many workers’ wages in our region fall dramatically short, including our County’s teachers and medical professionals.
That means after paying rent, Sonoma County workers have less left at the end of the day to cover other basic necessities, like groceries, transportation, or childcare. In fact, when factoringfor high housing costs, Sonoma County’s poverty rate increases from 10.3 percent to 17.9 percent.
“Most of us already know family or friends impacted by the housing crisis. But the data show the problem is much wider and deeper, requiring a systematic response," said Matt Schwartz, CEO and President of the California Housing Partnership, the organization that released the data.
Over the past 8 years, our communities have seen a dramatic decrease in state and federal funds for affordable housing, at the same time need has grown the most. Sonoma County has lost nearly 90% of state and federal funding for affordable housing since 2008.
Funds have been slashed even as needs have grown, and even as affordable housing has proven benefits for our communities. For Sonoma County residents who are able to secure affordable housing, it is a lifeline to opportunity and an important driver of equity in our region.
In 2007, Linda was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and told by her doctor was unlikely to make it through the night. Thanks to swift action from the Stanford Medical Center, Linda was able to prove the diagnosis wrong and amaze Stanford’s Director of Neurology when she emerged from successful surgery. Linda was prescribed recovery time and warned that it may take some time.
Unfortunately, Linda’s employer at the time required her to come back to work full-time, right away. With a recovery that took more than a full year, Linda lost her job and subsequently her home.
“I had been healthy all my life; this was difficult,” said Linda. “It was the first time in my life that I did not work professionally. I had to learn what a food bank is, had to learn what standing in the line meant.” Working with Catholic Charities, Linda was able to get on a waiting list at Burbank Housing and later get an affordable apartment at Amorasa Village in Santa Rosa.
Securing affordable housing transformed Linda’s life and helped her get back on her feet.
Everyone agrees that we want to support our most vulnerable communities and foster an environment where hardworking families and people can afford a safe, local place to live. But with reduced funding for affordable housing and rising housing costs, it has put a severe strain on our ability to respond to the needs of our community.
“Fortunately, there are important opportunities in front of us, if we have the will to seize them," said Schwartz.
The Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH) works across Northern California, including Sonoma County, to secure resources, promote good policy, educate the public and support affordable homes as the foundation for thriving individuals, families and neighborhoods.
“It’s important for Sonoma County to be able to support the most vulnerable among us, as well as be able to house the agricultural and hospitality industry workers so vital to the local economy,” said Amie Fishman, NPH’s Executive Director.
NPH’s work across the region provides a unique perspective on the needs and opportunities facing Sonoma County, and Fishman noted that new trends seen across the region were promising.
“It’s a turning tide,” said Fishman, observing new urgency for action on the issue, as seen in both Bay Area and national polling. “And it’s not just polling – we saw in last November’s election that, when given the chance, voters come out strongly in support for affordable housing.”
It’s clearly made a difference. Lawmakers in Sacramento are talking about affordable housing more seriously than ever; this session, lawmakers have introduced more than 130 bills related to affordable housing. Those state bills include new funding opportunities, which could help restore the funding cuts seen in Sonoma County, including Senate Bill 2 (Atkins) and Assembly Bill 71 (Chiu) to create new, local affordable homes.
And voters are encouraging local elected officials to get involved too. Across Northern California, voters are mobilizing behind affordable housing solutions during May’s Affordable Housing Month.
Affordable Housing Month includes a series of Affordable Housing Weeks around the region over the course of the month to lift up awareness about affordable housing challenges and solutions, and mobilize the community to learn, engage, and take action. Sonoma County’s Affordable Housing Week runs this week (May 14 – 20) and organizations including Burbank Housing, MidPen Housing, and Community Housing Sonoma County are encouraging community members to join the conversation.
“Affordable housing is not a business, it’s a movement,” said Bruce Shimizu, MidPen Housing Senior Project Manager. “We have to engage and energize the entire community.”
“Affordable housing strengthens our communities as a whole and transforms lives one at a time,” said Hannah Faire Scott, Burbank Housing Director of Community Engagement, pointing to the success of new projects such as Catalina Townhomes, a neighborhood of 60 households that spent more than 2 years helping to build their own homes.
“It’s important that we explore local and state solutions to address our community’s needs,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane. With her colleagues, Zane and the Board will consider a resolution of support for Affordable Housing Week at their May 16th meeting.
“It’s going to take action from all of us in order to drive change for our seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and hardworking families and neighbors,” said Zane.
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