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Post-Fire HOUSING Challenges

We’re about the enter a new phase in Sonoma County, one that we were trying to achieve through environmental awareness and social and political activism.

Housing and homelessness have been our challenges and nothing we were doing was fixing the problem. Compassionate, intelligent people got together to find solutions, but ideas have been making a slow transition to implementation. People looked to tiny houses in tiny villages, or ADUs (Auxiliary Dwelling Units), but they just aren’t sprouting up fast enough to solve the problem.

As housing prices rise, homes have become vacation rentals taking them out of the housing circuit. Rents have increased so high, people are forced to move out of the county and commute long distances to jobs.

Fire raged through the center of our county taking out thousands of homes, wiping out businesses, scorching the earth and devastating lives. Now we have newly homeless people who were happily housed and secure until flames destroyed what they had worked so hard to achieve. Now there are less homes and more homeless.

How are we going to fix this one?

The day after we go to press, our Board of Supervisors will be proposing some expansive changes in the way things get done around here. Right now we have a very pro-active board. One of our board members, Susan Gorin, was a victim of this fire like so many others. She is now homeless. Sure, she is among those who have insurance, and eventually, her home is likely to be rebuilt. I doubt very much that she is sleeping in an evacuation shelter, but no person can go through this kind of experience without being altered in some way.

One of the things I have admired about some of Susan’s actions has been her stance on limiting the number of VRBOs (vacation rental by owner). Out in Bodega Bay, this one factor has been blamed for why there is no housing for people who work on the coast. Some people come from as far as Lake County to work in the hospitality industry. Our Tourism Bureau has talked about how to address this problem because we can’t serve tourists well if people are tired, broke, and not happy.

If you are familiar with the magazine National Geographic, you will see that the current edition features a cover story on happiness. They traveled the world and did a survey of what makes people happy, and where they are most happy. Funny thing, food, clothing, shelter...yep, they are all a HUGE part of being happy. So is personal freedom. It’s an interesting article and worthy of your time. As we face change at home, we might consider including HAPPINESS in our equation of how we fix what’s wrong.

Instant Housing Solutions

As I was keeping our website updated with Fire Information people could use, I got a call from a man up in Alaska who manufactures homes for refugees and the homeless. They are also used for cabins in the woods, but the greatest use is housing people quickly, easily, and inexpensively.

This call segued beautifully into a meeting I watched on Facebook with our current and past supervisors and leaders in our community talking about solutions we can install right now. My first thought was oi park an RV on the property of the burnt house. People could go HOME again, be with their neighbors, put their kids in the same school, find the community connection that is part of what makes a house a home...people. Former supervisor Efren Carillo started talking about someone he knew who did just that. The family lived in the RV until their house was rebuilt.

Right now there is a shortage of FEMA trailers and RVs. A FEMA official said that there are orders for 9 million FEMA trailers right now because of all the natural disasters in the United States. That makes this InterShelter product look like an easy solution. I like easy solutions.

The man from Intershelter, Don, took me on a tour of his website to show me how these shelters are housing political refugees as well as homeless people. While we were on the phone, a man from Bangladesh called to talk about his order. That country is establishing villages for refugees from Myanmar. As someone recently said, “We think we have it bad, who would want to be a Syrian refugee about now?” What happens if your home is being destroyed and your life is at risk, and you simply have to leave in order to stay alive. Our problems look simple by comparison.

Don’s call was followed up by Elizabeth Brennan of Tepul Tents who has platforms and tents she would be willing to donate to Sonoma County - or lend for periods of time. Her tents are used to shelter people in emergencies as well. These take Tent Cities to another level Both people wanted us to know that they have viable, affordable solutions.

So let’s see what the Supervisors come up with. This is the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. By the time this paper hits the streets, we will know what they have decided.

Here is a LINK: to theOctober 24th Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting to learn what they see as solutions t our current challenges coming out of this fire:

Sonoma County Urgency Ordinance

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adopted an Urgency Ordinance on October 11th waiving permit processing fees for rebuilding of structures damaged by the Sonoma Complex Fires. On Tuesday, October 24th, 2017 the Board will consider three additional Urgency Ordinances to address the immediate housing needs for persons displaced by the fires.

Price Gouging (charging any amount more than the average rent charged prior to the emergency) will be prohibited. This applies to transient occupancy, short-term and long-term rentals of less than 1-year.

Prohibit New Vacation Rentals. Acceptance and processing of vacation rental permits will be suspended for the interim period (45-days but could be extended at a later date).

Temporary Housing for Displaced Persons

Residential Use of Recreational Vehicles and Travel Trailers will be allowed, both within and outside burn areas in the unincorporated areas, with hookup to sewer or septic. For the next 45 days, they will be allowed without permits or sewer hookups only outside the burn areas, if adequate septic holding capacity and routine pumping service is provided.

Safe Parking Programs will be enabled at certain County-owned properties allowing persons living in RVs, trailers, campers, and other vehicles to be parked overnight with some services provided (bathrooms, showers, and warming stations). Safe parking will also be allowed on private properties (i.e. churches) subject to approval of Community Development Commission.

Seasonal Farmworker Housing – the term of occupancy will be extended beyond 180 days so that seasonal farmworkers may remain year-round.

Rental/Use of Guest Houses, Pool Houses and Other Residential Accessory Structures to persons displaced by the fire will be allowed.

Replacement Schools and Child Care Centers will be allowed without a use permit in the MP (industrial park), C1 (neighborhood commercial), CO (commercial office) and PF (public facility) zones.

Long-term Rental of Visitor Serving Uses will be allowed, including bed and breakfast inns, resorts, agricultural farm stays, promotional marketing accommodations and similar uses.

Expansion of Damaged Nonconforming Residential Structures will be allowed to incentivize the construction of additional living areas, accessory dwellings and junior dwelling units.

Waived/Reduced Impact Fees for New Accessory Dwelling Units. Development impact fees that are typically charged on new residential units to cover the cost of improvements needed to mitigate the impact of on traffic and parks will be reduced or waived for new accessory dwelling units as noted below. Impact fees do not apply to reconstruction of existing units damaged by fire. * Size of Unit Impact Fee Reduction: 750 sq. ft. fees waived - 751-1,000 sq. ft. 50% of fees

Then we have to go about taking action - and fast. Winter is coming. People need a place to live. At this moment there is an amazing outpouring of generosity, compassion, funding and more. It has to continue until every person is safe at just has to.

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