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Sonoma County Affordable Housing Shortage

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Sonoma County Affordable Housing Shortage

By Francisco Lozano

The housing crisis can no longer be ignored, more and more cities are having residents voice their concerns such as Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and recently, the city of Sonoma has proven that its citizens are not immune to it

On August 17, the room where the city council meets in Sonoma, was full beyond capacity to the point that people were standing on the hall. Half of the people there were Sonoma residents who came to press the issue of the housing crisis. The crisis is a complex combination of shortage of inventory, sky high rent prices, lack of rent control and income inequality; rent control has become part of the narrative for the whole North of the Bay Area.

“The media often talk about our city council as one dealing with issues such as leaf blowers, but we also take care of the big issues such as affordable housing, the drought and traffic” said  Mayor David Cook on a phone interview. Cook added: “Illegal vacation rentals are part of the problem affecting the inventory of rentals, we are enforcing that ordinance as part of the housing crisis; we will be discussing the issue of rent control in the spring and will have the city staff study this issue but a lot of this issue falls on the county, this is a federal, state, county and city crisis.”

When asked about income inequality as part of the problem, Cook said: “That is a big can of worms, a difficult issue, we want to solve the problem, not create one, this (living wage) has to come from the county or the state. Make it equal and make sense for the businesses, some of them are struggling.”

The housing campaign in Sonoma Valley has been spearheaded by Dave Ransom of The Spiritual Action Group of  Sonoma United Methodist Church and by Mario Castillo, an outreach coordinator for  the Family Resource Center and other organizations such as La Luz and El Verano School. The North Bay Organizing Project has helped them organize the struggle. The coalition is now named Sonoma Valley Housing Group, the group presented the council a resolution that was the result of an open forum held at El Verano School on June 17 with as many as 200 people in attendance, including two Sonoma council members and County Supervisor Chair Susan Gorin.

Sonoma County Affordable Housing Shortage - Sonoma protestAt the council meeting, a dignified, well dressed homeless woman who identified herself as “Anonymous” told her compelling story: “My name is Anonymous, I’m homeless living at the Haven Shelter, we need rent control desperately, we need affordable housing that’s affordable... penalize the vacation rentals and stop them... this short life that we live is not about money, we have to take care of one another, be compassionate. We need rent control, I’m begging you, start rent control right here in Sonoma, I’m a retired Registered Nurse, I’ve rented for over 31 years, I’m in low income social security and can’t find anything... I’m trying to decide what state and get on a bus and move to, but darn it!, I’ve been here since ‘68 and love it and would love to stay. I don’t know how many years I’ve got, I’m pushing 80... all I want is my own little place, peace and quite, get my kitty cat back... I hope you take action immediately, human beings deserve it.” There was a solemn silence as she spoke with eloquence and captivated both the audience and the council.

“While some of the residents talk about leaf blowers ( referring to the contrast of  previous speakers and the contrast of the have and have not), we are concerned about this” (holding up a sign about the housing crisis) said Mario Castillo and added: “can I ask you to take leadership on this issue? If you can’t do it, a few of you are up for re-election, we’ll find other people who will take on the issue; people don’t even want to come to pick grapes here, the locals have to do it now, there is a working class that needs you”. 

Castillo also spoke of the children who are not doing well in school. “Kids are being affected, they are not advancing, they are not learning because they don’t have a roof over their head.” said a passionate Castillo. He also said that the Family Resource Center gets up to four families a day that are removed (evicted) from their homes.

Sonoma County Affordable Housing Shortage - Santa Rosa protest

Dave Ransom, a Santa Rosa resident who couldn’t afford to buy a home in Sonoma, has been commuting every Sunday to attend the UMC and also travels to meet with Castillo and other members of the Sonoma Valley group. “We tested out the word housing in our congregation and got a million stories of what is happening to people in Sonoma and that is the case all over the county.” said Ransom and he added: “We would like you to take the step of declaring a Housing State of Emergency, the Governor declared a state of emergency because the fire, presidents declare state of emergencies, if we had an earthquake it will be declared state of emergency, housing is a personal and social earthquake in Sonoma and the Springs and the rest of the Sonoma County. You’ve heard the phrase Ordinary people do Extraordinary things in extraordinary times, I believe you are all ordinary and it’s time to do extraordinary about this.”

Ransom points out that Governor Brown shutting down the local redeveloping agencies in 2012 is a major factor in the housing crisis. The state budget for housing was 1.5 billion a year, now it’s only 100 million a year. 

Mario Castillo was appalled about the fact that the rent control issue won’t be on the city council’s agenda until the spring of 2016. “Seriously? Why are these people waiting until the spring”? Castillo exclaimed in disbelief.

 


 

Francisco Lozano is a freelance photojournalist and writer currently volunteering at KBBF 89.1 FM Santa Rosa. You may reach him at: flozano760@gmail.com