Nadine Ono, CAFWD
Housing in Sonoma County was the top priority for political, business and philanthropic leaders who met last year after the devasting 2017 fires destroyed more than 5,100 homes. Since that first meeting participants hit the ground running to ensure the region not only recover lost housing, but also establish an environment to create new and affordable housing.
“We’re organizing a grassroots campaign to be pro-housing to support projects that come up,” said Santa Rosa Metro Chamber CEO Peter Rumble on the establishment of the Sonoma County Housing Council, which brings together 15 of the region’s largest employers to invest in housing projects and is in the process of establishing a local housing trust.
It is a much-needed vehicle in the region as there was previously no local housing fund. Added Rumble, “To be able to have a separate fund that can be used to help bridge the gap of affordable or workforce level housing in addition to any funds that might be available through the public process is a tremendous boon for the community.”
While the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber was creating the Housing Council, the City of Santa Rosa was laying the groundwork to make housing a priority.
“The big focus this past year has been on housing elements,” said David Guhin, Santa Rosa’s assistant city manager and director of economic development. “We put a number of policies into place over the past year in anticipation on focusing on infill development and setting ourselves up to be the leaders and the example of how the policies can help support achieving some of the housing goals that we want to achieve.”
The housing elements achieved by Santa Rosa include:
- Unanimous support of housing goals from the city council and making it a top five priority for the city
- Establishing new citywide housing policies including new accessory dwelling unit policies that reduce or eliminate some fees, feasibility study on the current inclusionary policy and an aggressive housing action plan
- New downtown housing policies that include creating a high-density residential incentive program, increasing building height requirements and decreasing parking requirements, express permitting, designating downtown as a Federal Opportunity Zone, offering density bonuses and evaluating city property for housing
- Create regional partnerships including a Renewal Enterprise District JPA, evaluating tax increment financing with Sonoma County and coordinating with the Employers Housing Council
Guhin added, “This is a fairly aggressive new model, it’s one that basically says we can’t do it alone and this won’t work unless everyone participates in some way. It’s encouraging to see employers sitting around a table talking about housing.”