Jul 31, 2018
By Will Carruthers
Faced with a rapidly worsening affordability crisis, twelve labor, tenants rights and environmental groups proposed a slate of actions to lead an “equitable, just and sustainable recovery” from last year’s wildfires.
At a Thursday, July 19 event, leaders of the Alliance for a Just Recovery, said that although Sonoma County had long been becoming unaffordable for many residents, last years’ wildfires dramatically worsened the problem.
“Across race, income, immigration status and geography, the Tubbs fire revealed inequities and injustices that existed long before for the fire began and must be addressed by the state, the county, and the City of Santa Rosa.”
Activists, tenants and workers shared stories of their struggles to afford housing on low wages or fixed incomes, at the July event.
“The housing crisis is now unprecedented and catastrophic,” said Marty Bennett, the Alliance’s organizer and co-chair of North Bay Jobs with Justice, referencing increasing housing costs and falling wages in the county.
In Santa Rosa, where the Tubbs fire destroyed 2,800 homes, rental prices for a two-bedroom home have increased 17.24 percent since last July. ~ RentData.org.
While the median household income in Sonoma County is expected to rise to $74,485 by 2021 - a 17 percent increase from 2016 - the portion of below-median income households will continue to decrease, according to the Sonoma County Economic Development Board’s 2017 Sonoma County Profile Report.
“The proportion of county residents [earning less than $75,000] is projected to decrease by 6 percentage points from 2016 to 2021. This trend will result in concentration of households in higher-income tiers and higher median incomes,” the report states.
Although some of the groups have worked together before, the Alliance officially formed in the weeks after the North Bay Fires to help community members respond to the disaster. Now, the group intends to push legislation for the November ballot, work with local politicians, and to organize residents and workers.
The most immediate solutions proposed include passing measures to enact rent control and to fund affordable housing in Santa Rosa on this November’s ballot and enacting a $15 minimum wage in Santa Rosa and three other cities in the county by 2020.
Teri Shore, the North Bay director of the Greenbelt Alliance, called on lawmakers to focus on building within urban growth boundaries, protect and enhance existing “Green Belt” separations between cities and to prevent further sprawl and development in high fire risk areas.
“We need to avoid short-term decisions that can have negative long-term impacts on the people, lands and economy of Sonoma County,” Shore said.“No one in Sonoma County should ever die again as a result of poor land use or other policy decisions.”
After the meeting, Julie Combs, a Santa Rosa City Council Member, said that it was “helpful” to have a list of the group’s desires to refer to while trying to pass legislation on the council.
“This isn’t about being divisive. This is about helping our community work together to achieve things that allow people who live here now to stay here, work, raise children and retire here,” Combs said.
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