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Sonoma County Housing Crisis: Candidates Clash on Solutions

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Sonoma County Housing Crisis: Candidates Clash on Solutions

By Dave Ransom, Sonoma Valley Housing Group

First District candidates’ views on housing crisis: clash on rent control, legal aid, homelessness

“The proof is in their ability to stand up to the special interests profiting from this crisis," says Brigode.

The First District’s three candidates for county supervisor in next Tuesday’s primary election have submitted extensive answers to a series of questions on Sonoma Valley’s housing crisis, which were submitted by the Sonoma Valley Housing Group.

Besides current supervisor Susan Gorin, candidates include Sonoma Valley School Board member Gina Cuclis and Santa Rosa resident Keith Rhinehart.

"All the candidates seem to be aware of the severity of the housing crisis,” says long-time affordable-housing professional David Brigode of Sonoma. “But the proof is in their ability to stand up to the special interests profiting from this crisis."

All three show themselves concerned with rising rents, declining vacancies, homelessness, the lack of state funding, and the problems facing tenants of mobile home parks.

But that’s where the similarities end.

RENT STABILIZATION

Rhinehart says he supports rent stabilization and just-cause eviction -- and he goes into details about what that should look like. He favors holding annual rent increases for rental properties “down around the 5% range.”

Cuclis says rent control doesn’t work. Rents just increase faster in apartment complexes built after 1995, where state law bans rent control, she says.

Gorin says rent control “is not a magic bullet.” She wants to know many units in the Valley might qualify. “The number is less than we think.”

LEGAL AID 

Both Gorin and Cuclis say they need more information about just-cause eviction. But Gorin supports a landlord-tenant mediation board and expanded funding for legal-aid services.

That funding is included in the current board’s budget for approval in June, she points out. “And I am currently working with the County to find a storefront for Human Services and Legal Aid in Sonoma Valley.”

Cuclis says she would need more information and specifics before committing to allocating more funds to legal-aid services for low-income and working tenants.

Rhinehart supports adding a civil division to the public defender’s office to address such issues and create a “more fair fight” in landlord-tenant standoffs. “Where there is injustice, I will pursue correction vigorously.”

HOMELESS 

That extends to homelessness, where Rhinehart sees an obligation of the county “to identify pockets of land or vacant existing buildings that can be used to move people off the streets.”

That could provide parking areas for people sleeping in their cars, he says. as well as supervised tent cities and small-home communities. Existing buildings could be “brought online quickly to house the homeless, especially veterans and children.” 

Gorin says she has been working on expanding homeless services with Catholic Charities and Sonoma Overnight Support (SOS) -- which operates the Haven shelter -- including a safe-parking program for people living in their cars.

“We met resistance from the City and veterans groups when we proposed a safe-parking program at the Sonoma Memorial Veterans’ Building parking lot,” she says.

Cuclis points out that, when she was on Sonoma’s planning commission, she was “a vocal advocate” for getting the Haven approved.

FUNDING 

Cuclis supports using County funds that had previously gone to the Redevelopment Agency to create housing for people “who already live here, want to continue living here, and feel like they’re being forced out.”

But “we can’t simply rely on government-subsidized programs,” she says. She wants to explore rezoning to build middle-class and workforce housing as well as offering incentives to builders and developers.

Rhinehart also calls for low’-income housing “for our laborers and domestic workers to be able to live in our communities.” He suggests that the wine and beer industries be taxed. 

Gorin reports that nearly 40% of the County’s former redevelopment funds currently help fund homeless services and affordable housing. She has been working with developers on finding infill sites in Sonoma Valley over the past year, she says.

Both the Mid-Pen housing project on Highway 12 and the SAHA project on Broadway are examples of her commitment to affordable housing, she says.

MOBILE-HOME PARKS 

Asked whether she would support exclusive-use zoning for mobile-home parks in the unincorporated areas, Gorin gives a definite yes. Cuclis says she supports “doing what is necessary” to preserve mobile-home parks as affordable housing. Rhinehart, too, says he would support mobile-home protections. 

The bi-lingual Sonoma Valley Housing Group includes residents of both the city and the county, both Anglo and Latino. It includes members of the Spiritual Action Group at Sonoma United Methodist Church, parents whose children attend El Verano Elementary School, and assorted local activists.

With support from La Luz Center and the North Bay Organizing Project, the group has sponsored two well attended housing forums at the school in the last year.

 


 

The FULL SURVEYS for all 3 candidates Questions and Answers:

 

Gina Cuclis - 1st District Housing Questionnaire - May 2016 

RENT STABILIZATION, JUST-CAUSE EVICTION 

QUESTION: Rents have risen faster than people’s incomes, and tenants are being evicted from their long-term homes for no reason other than to upgrade and rent to higher-paying tenants. Do you support some form of rent stabilization and just-cause eviction?

My family has personal experience with rent control, as we have a daughter living in New York City who lived in a rent-controlled apartment that she had to move out of, because it was unsafe. I recently heard about an individual who’s lived 20 years in a rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco, who’s now buying a vacation home in Sonoma. NYC and SF are two of the highest priced housing markets in the U.S., despite having rent control. Rent control, with the exception of mobile home parks, doesn’t stabilize rents, because it creates haves and have-nots. Rents simply continue to rise, at an even greater rate, in apartment buildings that don’t have rent control. This is because only multi-family apartments built before 1995 can have rent control.  Plus, as my SF example illustrates, people who live in rent controlled apartments stay there, even if they don’t need the financial break. Our issue is a lack of housing, and particularly, a lack of the type of housing people who live here need. Regarding just-cause eviction, I would need to see the specifics of a proposed ordinance to know if I would support it.

HOMELESSNESS

QUESTION: District One has fewer homeless services than other districts. Will you support expanding homeless programs in the Valley -- for instance, working with Catholic Charities to open a place for people sleeping in their cars -- and will you do so using county-owned land. 

We have a Board of Supervisors with a majority from Santa Rosa, therefore, its focus is on solving homelessness in Santa Rosa. Look at recent Board decisions to fund a single room occupancy complex and a tiny house village in Santa Rosa. Outlying areas of the county, not just Sonoma Valley, are underserved in homeless services. As long as the Board of Supervisors is out of balance with regards to representing all of Sonoma County, resources for homelessness won’t be distributed equitably. I support finding a safe location for a safe parking program. Deciding exactly where needs to be a broader discussion involving churches, the Sonoma City Council, the Sheriff’s office, community organizations, and residents.

I also have a track record of supporting services for homeless in our Valley. I was on the City of Sonoma’s Planning Commission when the first SOS Shelter came before the city for approval. I was a vocal advocate who helped it get approved.

LEGAL RIGHTS

QUESTION: Renters are unaware of their legal rights, or are unable to exercise their legal rights in the court and justice system. Will you commit to additional, funding for tenant-landlord and fair-housing counseling and for non-profit legal-aid organizations that provide these services (bi-lingually) to low-income and working households?

When it comes to allocating funds, I would first need more information and specifics about how and what the funds would exactly be used for, what organizations would receive them, and what amount of funds were being requested. Because I have a background working for nonprofit human services agencies, I would also want to know how the organizations receiving the funds would measure their results.

FUNDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING

QUESTION: Everyone agrees we need to increase the amount of housing that is affordable by the people who work here, particularly our rental stock. Will you commit the General-Fund resources that went into redevelopment-funded housing to a new affordable-housing fund?

Yes, I’ve been on the record for months discussing the idea of using funds that had previously gone to the redevelopment agency to be used for housing. 

QUESTION: Do you have any other ideas on how to fund housing that’s affordable for the people who work here -- inclusionary zoning, real-estate transfer tax, TOT funds, land-banking, or using under-utilized county land and structures?

We need to explore all possible ideas and funding opportunities for creating housing for people who already live here, want to continue living here, and feel like they’re being forced out. We can’t simply rely on government-subsidized programs to provide affordable housing, because there are not enough funds available to cover the need. We need to explore possibly rezoning properties within our urban areas, which includes unincorporated urban areas, in order to build middle class and workforce housing. We need to also work with the private sector to create incentives to develop the type of housing we need.

MOBILE-HOME PARKS 

QUESTION: Across the country, owners are converting their mobile-home parks to other uses. The Sonoma County Mobile Homeowners’ Association has called on the Board of Supervisors to re-adopt exclusive-use zoning for mobile-home parks as an important step toward preserving affordable housing stock. Do you support doing so?

I support doing what is necessary to preserve our mobile-home parks as affordable housing.

Even though I don’t live in the City of Sonoma, I attended all the city council meetings at the Veterans’ Building when the council updated the city’s mobile home rent control ordinance. At the second meeting, I got up and spoke on the need to protect the affordability of mobile home parks.

 


 

Susan Gorin - 1st District Housing Questionnaire - May 2016 

RENT STABILIZATION, JUST-CAUSE EVICTION

QUESTION: Rents have risen faster than people’s incomes, and tenants are being evicted from their long-term homes for no reason other than to upgrade and rent to higher-paying tenants. Do you support some form of rent stabilization and just-cause eviction?

Housing is at a crisis level in Sonoma Valley and other parts of the County, and our residents are seeking solutions to ease the skyrocketing rents.

In accordance with state law, Rent Stabilization can only be applied to those multi-family units built before 1995; it is not a magic bullet. I have requested that a review begin to estimate how many units in the Valley and in the County might qualify for rental control – the number is less that we think. 

There are many forms of rent stabilization.  Santa Rosa’s ordinance is limited and differs from those existing in more urban areas in the Bay Area. Until the Board has a deeper conversation about rent stabilization and all other strategies to alleviate our housing crisis, I will continue to work with the Sonoma Valley Housing Group to increase funding for homeless outreach services, shelters and transitional housing, upgraded substandard housing, legal aid services for tenants, Landlord/Tenant Mediation Board, and affordable housing in the Valley.

I need more information about Just Cause Eviction and a better understanding about how this would help our community.  This will be part of our board discussion.  But I absolutely support a Mediation Board and expanded funding for Legal Aid services and tenant information.  Additional funding for Legal Aid is included in the Board’s budget for approval in June, and I am currently working with the County to find a storefront for Human Services and Legal Aid in Sonoma Valley.  

I’m pleased to announce that the Supervisors just approved my recommendation that we allocate $1m from our TOT funds generated by tourism to jumpstart our Housing Trust Fund. 

HOMELESSNESS 

QUESTION: District One has fewer homeless services than some other districts. Will you support expanding homeless programs in the Valley -- for instance, working with Catholic Charities to open a place for people sleeping in their cars -- and will you do so using county-owned land. 

I have been working with Catholic Charities and Sonoma Overnight Support on expanded homeless services, including increased funding for Code Blue emergency shelters in the winter, a safe parking program, Homeless Outreach Services Team outreaching to those living along the creeks, creek cleanups and transitional shelters.

We met resistance from the City and Veterans Groups when we proposed a safe parking program at the Sonoma Memorial Veterans’ Building Parking lot.  But Catholic Charities and SOS are now working together on a different location that might work more successfully.

LEGAL RIGHTS

QUESTION: Renters are unaware of their legal rights, or are unable to exercise their legal rights in the court and justice system. Will you commit to additional, funding for tenant-landlord and fair-housing counseling and for non-profit legal-aid organizations that provide these services (bi-lingually) to low-income and working households?

Yes – see above. I’m exploring grant funding opportunities to fund a multi-disciplinary team approach in the Valley that involves code enforcement, tenant rights information, and community outreach similar to the Neighborhood Revitalization Program in Santa Rosa.

FUNDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING 

QUESTION: Everyone agrees we need to increase the amount of housing that is affordable by the people who work here, particularly our rental stock. Will you commit the General-Fund resources that went into redevelopment-funded housing to a new affordable-housing fund? 

Yes – Nearly 40% of the County’s R&R funds (former Redevelopment Funds) currently help to fund homeless services, transitional shelters, and affordable housing through various programs.

Demand for housing has increased in Sonoma County over the past decade, and supply has not kept pace because of the recession and concomitant disruption of the credit market and bank foreclosures.  Housing starts of single-family homes and multi-family units are recovering slowly, but there is enormous demand for housing at all income levels, but especially for the workforce – extremely low, low and moderate.

Land needs to be rezoned for higher densities to accommodate new housing, and current housing stock needs to be stabilized and rehabilitated. Additional land for housing will be located at the County Chanate Campus, SCWA West College site, Sonoma Developmental Center campus in the future, and in the Priority Development Areas (SR, Coddingtown, Roseland, and Airport Station Area Plans) and the smaller Rural Town Center of The Springs Corridor (currently in planning).

Housing has been identified as a top priority of the County, and our workplan will outline initiatives to come forward over the next year.  I serve on the Facilities Ad Hoc Committee, which completed the background work to initiate the RFP for the Chanate Campus (approved by the Board), and I was able to work with staff to receive a planning grant for the Springs Corridor Specific Plan to identify opportunities for housing and mixed-use development.  In addition, I have been working with developers of housing for infill sites in the Sonoma Valley over the past year, and I am currently in a discussion group of local housing advocates to explore creative ideas for affordable housing in the Valley.

Two examples of my commitment to affordable housing are the Mid-Pen Housing Project (Fetters Apartments and Celestina Apartments), which are taking applications for those units to be completed in 2017 (for the first phase) and the SAHA Project on Broadway, now going through the approval process in the City of Sonoma. But I have approved many affordable housing projects in Santa Rosa as a Planning Commissioner, Councilmember and Mayor of Santa Rosa.

The State legislature is currently discussing significant additional funding for homeless and affordable housing programs in the California, and we are advocating for those programs to benefit those in Sonoma County.

QUESTION: Do you have any other ideas on how to fund housing that’s affordable for the people who work here -- inclusionary zoning, real-estate transfer tax, TOT funds, land-banking, or using under-utilized county land and structures?

See the answers to the above questions for more information on this.  The County will be engaging in a more detailed analysis about all of these suggestions and more strategies outlined in the Housing Toolbox, developed by the County Community Development Commission.  This is on line on the County website. 

MOBILE-HOME PARKS 

QUESTION: Across the country, owners are converting their mobile-home parks to other uses. The Sonoma County Mobile Homeowners’ Association has called on the Board of Supervisors to re-adopt exclusive-use zoning for mobile-home parks as an important step toward preserving affordable housing stock. Do you support doing so?

YES – I have worked extensively with the Manufactured Homeowners community, and I am supported by many of the past and current leadership of the Golden State Manufactured-Home Owners League (GSMOL).

 


 

Keith Rhinehart - 1st District Housing Questionnaire - May 2016

RENT STABILIZATION, JUST-CAUSE EVICTION 

QUESTION: Rents have risen faster than people’s incomes, and tenants are being evicted from their long-term homes for no reason other than to upgrade and rent to higher-paying tenants. Do you support some form of rent stabilization and just-cause eviction?

Simply, yes - with two caveats: First, if the owner must invest thousands to repair a rental unit “in good standing,” there must be help for that owner to recover their further investment in the rental property. I’m talking roofing, new septic, expensive improvements like that. Even a park-like area, if a Community-oriented landlord wants to improve his property for the sake of the tenants and their families. Perhaps the City and County can help subsidize such improvements with grants they can obtain. “Good Standing?” I am talking about landlords who keep their rental properties clean and in good repair as a general practice. I do not think “slumlords” should receive any financial help, other than a loan, to bring their rentals back to safe and sanitary, that is, “normal” conditions, and the cost of such a loan should NOT be passed to the tenants. Secondly, there needs to be a stipulation that allows the owner or their family to move back into the rental property if needed. Fortunes rise and fall, and a multiple-homeowner must have a residence of last resort, if that becomes necessary. I think holding annual increases for identifiable residential-only rental properties down around the 5% range is acceptable, barring national economic disasters like the 2008 recession. 

HOMELESSNESS 

QUESTION: District One has fewer homeless services than other districts. Will you support expanding homeless programs in the Valley -- for instance, working with Catholic Charities to open a place for people sleeping in their cars -- and will you do so using county-owned land?

Our County, just like San Francisco and the City of Sonoma, have an obligation to identify pockets of land or vacant existing buildings that can be used to move people off the streets. This could be land for parking, for supervised “tent-cities,” “small home” communities, and, most importantly, problem residential hotel spaces like The Palms in Santa Rosa, or the Chanate property, that could be brought online quickly to house the homeless, especially veterans and children. Of course we should work with Catholic Charities, La Luz Center, eventually perhaps “TransformSDC” to leverage their experience in such undertakings, especially Catholic Charities.

LEGAL RIGHTS

QUESTION: Renters are unaware of their legal rights, or are unable to exercise their legal rights in the court and justice system. Will you commit to additional, funding for tenant-landlord and fair-housing counseling and for non-profit legal-aid organizations that provide these services (bi-lingually) to low-income and working households?

Justice in Sonoma County, as in the rest of California and the Nation, leans against non-institutional plaintiffs and poor defendants. As much good as the Public Defender’s office does, and they do a fantastic job with the resources they have, they are woefully underfunded and understaffed. I would support adding a Civil Division to the Public Defender’s office to address such issues – in fact, the Public Defender should have Divisions matching those of the District Attorney, as well as a Civil Division. That would create a more “fair fight” in these situations. I support more bilingual education in how to access the California Justice Self-Help system. The last piece is judgeship. We have excellent and fair local judges (appointed by the state, or reelected), but they are appointed/elected from our Community of prosecutors and defense attorneys. I wish there was another pool to choose from, but the bottom line is campaign finance. If elections were free of the money influence that buys signs and mailers, voters could choose the candidate that appears the most fair and in favor of the People, not the Institutions, which is how Law is written – to err in favor the weaker party in any legal argument. We need free (publicly funded) and fair elections across the candidacy for any office, including judges, to lessen the impact of any given candidate’s background experience, be it prosecutorial/plaintiff or defense. As a candidate, I will not “commit” to any agreement in advance of the election, unlike certain of my opponents. No pledges, no promises except that I am as you see me, and where there is injustice, I will pursue correction vigorously, not because of a pledge, but because it’s the right thing to do. 

FUNDING  AFFORDABLE HOUSING

QUESTION: Everyone agrees we need to increase the amount of housing that is affordable by the people who work here, particularly our rental stock. Will you commit the General-Fund resources that went into redevelopment-funded housing to a new affordable-housing fund?

Yes, I believe the first step in responsible development, beyond pedestrian safety in The Springs, is “affordable” housing. But that term seems to apply to teachers and nurses, some of the most highly-paid workers in the County, with strong union backing. What about the middle-aged woman who serves me at McDonald’s? What about the Agricultural workers? We need more “low-income” housing, not simply “affordable” housing for institutional workers, with some of the highest pay and retirement benefit in modern history.

We need for our laborers and domestic workers to be able to live in our Communities, where they can improve their education and experience and move up the ladder to the level of prosperity our waning “middle class” enjoys. This would also expand, not shrink, the “middle class,” as is occurring today under our unfair economic system (taxation, not initiative – initiative should be rewarded, but manufacturing should stay in our Communities, and protecting the wealth of the 1% and Corporations must not be done through tax breaks and offshore asset protections.)

QUESTION: Do you have any other ideas on how to fund housing that’s affordable for the people who work here -- inclusionary zoning, real-estate transfer tax, TOT funds, land-banking, or using under-utilized county land and structures?

I think I stated above how we should proceed to address the Homeless situation. As a manager, I will use the authority and resources of the office of Supervisor to leverage the most State and Federal monies obtainable, and to address our egregious Pension rip-off to benefit the Community. I also believe it is time the wine and beer industries volunteer to tax their products to make up for the above-average alcoholism rate and its impact on homelessness, especially in light of all the discussion about taxing recreational marijuana for adults before it is even legal. Alcohol causes so much damage in our Community, and we need a 5-10% “sin tax” to address some of the damage, and yes, to add to the pot of money for low-income housing and homeless housing. 

MOBILE-HOME PARKS

QUESTION: Across the country, owners are converting their mobile-home parks to other uses. The Sonoma County Mobile Homeowners’ Association has called on the Board of Supervisors to re-adopt exclusive-use zoning for mobile-home parks as an important step toward preserving affordable housing stock. Do you support doing so?

You must be referring to the Windsorland destruction where the new Oliver’s is now. That is the most recent occurrence I can recall. This issue seems appears to be a much bigger threat than conversion of already unaffordable houses to Vacation rentals. So, if I can take your statement as fact, I would support protections for such land. Litigation has “declawed” our ability to demand that low-income housing be included in new housing developments, such as in Windsor, however, I believe we can make it attractive to builders to build it back into their developments, with specific incentives to do so. I also believe it should be done on a “one-to-one” ratio, eliminated housing unit and capacity, to new housing units and capacity.

I hope you find my points-of-view to be aligned with your Community concerns. Thank you for this opportunity to address these issues before your esteemed members, and for your continuing good works on behalf of our less-fortunate residents and families.