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Affordable Housing needs to be a Priority in Sonoma Valley

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Affordable Housing needs to be a Priority in Sonoma Valley

OPEN LETTER TO THE SONOMA CITY COUNCIL

2/11/16

Dear Council Members:

At your January 20 meeting, we heard loud and clear that every one of you wants to make affordable housing a priority. That’s great. Now how do we do that?

For nearly eight months, our members have appeared at almost every City Council meeting requesting that affordable housing be put on the Council’s agenda. So far that has not happened.

Our request followed well attended, bi-lingual forums at both the Sonoma United Methodist Church and El Verano Elementary School. We summarized the community’s concerns and its proposed solutions in our “Resolution for a Housing State of Emergency.”  Copies have been in the hands of the Council and city staff for some time.

In a poll released last week in Healdsburg -- a city much like Sonoma -- more than 70 percent were concerned about the lack of affordable housing, 71 percent were upset that outsiders were replacing long-term residents, and 86 percent said they would support increasing affordable housing. 

We suspect that the same is true in Sonoma. The comments by the crowd that turned out at the Planning Commission hearing on the proposed hotel between First and Second Street East suggest as much.

The city of Alameda recently adopted a moratorium on large rent increases and no-cause evictions while it studies the affordable housing problem. We have delivered copies of the ordinance to city staff and to a number of Council members.

We wonder if the same couldn’t happen in Sonoma.

The city manager has told us that, until directed by the Council, she cannot spend staff time on studying the community’s proposals. Even if she could, she says, she has insufficient staff to move ahead in what we consider a timely fashion. She has suggested we get in line behind the mobile-home owners (who after many months will see their rent-control taken up in March). 

The patience of the mobile-homers is admirable, and we support their campaign to strengthen rent control in the mobile-home parks. But we respectfully submit that “justice delayed is justice denied.”

Sonoma households spending more than a third of their income for rent -- sometimes more than half -- can’t wait. Families being pushed out of their homes and neighborhoods by vacation rentals can’t wait. Those of us working in town for less than it takes to rent a place in Sonoma or the Springs can’t wait. The families doubled up in apartments and houses because that’s the only way to keep a roof over our heads can’t wait. Nor can the folks sleeping in Maxwell Park.

How many people have to leave town before the Council acts? If it takes meeting more than once every two weeks, let’s do it. If it takes hiring more city staff, let’s do it. If it takes working with the county -- or even turning it over to the county -- let’s do that. We know you want to move ahead. Let’s do whatever it takes.

Therefore, we respectfully request that the Council hold an open, public hearing at which we can formally present our concerns and propose solutions, and others can do the same. We request that -- with all due, deliberate speed -- the Council adopt a moratorium on rent increases and no-cause evictions while it works out longer-term solutions. Declaring a housing state of emergency would show you are serious.

Submitted by:

– Spiritual Action Group (of Sonoma United Methodist Church)
– Sonoma Vally Housing Group

For more information contact:

Shelley Richey, mechelle.richey@yahoo.com 477-5126

 


 

RESOLUTION ON HOUSING ‘STATE OF EMERGENCY’

August 17, 2015

Whereas the housing crisis has reached epidemic proportions, with County Supervisor Susan Gorin calling the situation in Sonoma Valley “desperate”; 

Thousands of families in the county have lost their homes to foreclosure and short sales since 2008, most becoming new renters and driving up rents, while wages and incomes have not kept pace;

CNN predicts that landlords nationally will evict millions more so that they can rent to higher-paying tenants, and long-time residents of the city and county are already being turned out of their homes, as this begins; 

California has had the highest percentage rent increases of any state, and Sonoma County has had the highest of any metro area -- more than 30% over the past three years alone -- while the vacancy rate is practically nil; 

Deep-pocket employees in the high-tech industry are driving up rents and pushing people out of San Francisco and the East Bay, and real-estate speculators are now extending this “gentrification” into Sonoma;

A new breed of hedge-funds is selling wealthy investors city and county homes as rental properties, while small local apartment owners are being replaced by speculators and a similar process is underway in mobile-home parks -- all this further driving up rents;

More than 40% of people in Sonoma County rent, many forced by rising rates to double up, or to go from friend to friend couch surfing, or to sleep under bridges, along the creeks, or in the streets, and people are paying as much as half their income on rent;

Since 2008, very few affordable rental units have been built in the county, while 18,000 new jobs have been created, and there are 14,000 people on the county’s Section 8 waiting list for just 2,800 units, with landlords are refusing to accept Section 8 vouchers;

Low incomes, high rents, and no vacancies have left tenants fearful of demanding needed repairs and maintenance, while some landlords are threatening the undocumented with eviction and possible deportation if they speak up;

And before Governor Brown shut down the local redevelopment agencies in 2012, the state put $1.5 billion into housing yearly, but in FY 2015, it’s only $100 million;

Therefore, be it resolved: That the Sonoma City Council/County Board of Supervisors declare a housing state of emergency and take every possible step to solve it.

That it take immediate steps to provide shelter for the homeless, if not by housing them, then by providing tents, bathroom facilities, and security, including places for those living in their cars to park safely; 

That it take immediate steps to assure that existing tenant protections are enforced and eviction only for cause be enacted; that tenants are informed of their rights and counseled on how to obtain them; and that this include the rights of tenants of mobile-home parks;

That it take immediate steps to adopt emergency rent control, limiting increases to 3-percent, plus passthroughs of increased tax and utility costs; and that, with all deliberate speed, it craft a long-term rent stabilization ordinance; 

That, with all deliberate speed, it take steps to find, access, and if necessary acquire existing unused structures suitable for apartments and make them available at rents consistent with the region’s wages and incomes; 

That, with all deliberate speed, it rezone for boarding houses and cooperatives and encourage their establishment; that it also legalize the renting of guest houses and spare bedrooms;

That, with all deliberate speed, it establish a clearing house or other mechanism by which potential tenants can establish their credit-worthiness and not have to pay for credit checks each time they make an application to rent;

That it make the construction of apartments affordable by the majority of renters in the city/county the first priority in granting building permits; and that it make whatever zoning changes necessary to enable such construction;

That it use its zoning powers to outlaw short-term “vacation” rental of housing units by non-resident owners, and that it enforce existing ordinances against same;

That it make low- or no-interest loans to low-income landlords owning two units or less so that they can make legally necessary repairs; 

That it join with other local governments to compel the state to reinstate and refund the redevelopment agencies or otherwise return that money for housing;

That it support, at the local and state level, legislation to insure that wages are high enough to live here and to rent decent housing for no more than a third of take-home pay.

Sonoma Valley Housing Group.
For more information, contact Mario Castillo: mcastillo06@sbcglobal.net,
707/227-4684; or Dave Ransom: dransom391@aol.com, 707/338-9146