Permit Sonoma is introducing several initiatives designed to provide more opportunities and better certainty to housing developers in order to reduce risk and increase investment, to help meet the County's ambitious housing production goal.
Published on July 12, 2018
Materials from the Wednesday, July 11, 2018, public workshop are now available for download.
Published on May 11, 2018
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, approved a series of changes to the Sonoma County Code. These changes will take effect June 7, 2018.
Published on April 5, 2018
The Sonoma County Planning Commission and the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will consider a set of housing initiatives.
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Like many other counties in California, Sonoma County is known for its high cost of living and lack of affordable, available housing. Home prices in the county have doubled in the last six years, with a median cost of a single-family home reaching $670,000 in January 2018. Rents have increased 9.5 percent in 2017, to an average of $1,980 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. To afford this average apartment, a family of three must have an income of $90,204, significantly more than the county median income of $75,500.
Why Housing Affordability Matters
Housing affordability affects the entire community—residents, businesses, the environment, and the economy:
- A lack of affordable or available housing increases homelessness.
- Extremely cost-burdened households (those spending more than 50 percent of income on housing) have little left over to pay for other necessary expenses—food, transportation, and health care and suffer lower health outcomes as a result.
- A lack of affordable housing in urban centers forces people to commute long distances and move outside of the County, resulting in increased traffic and wear-and-tear on aging roads, lower quality of life, and lost economic output.
- Slow housing growth results in a slower job growth and economic prosperity.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors adopted the Building HOMES Toolbox in 2016, focusing on ending homelessness by providing more permanent supportive housing, set-asides in affordable housing developments, housing for homeless youth, rental subsidies, and use of the Housing First approach. All of these solutions require the development of a significant number of rental housing units throughout the county, but focused in areas like cities and more urban communities where services are available.
In 2017, the Board of Supervisors adopted a strategic priority of “ Housing for All” —an effort to facilitate the development of housing for households of all income levels, focused in urban centers. Under this strategic priority, the Board of Supervisors set a goal of creating 675 new housing units per year until 2022, and included strategies such as updating and simplifying regulations for land use entitlements, deferring the collection of impact fees, and enacting housing code amendments for workforce housing.
Effect of the Sonoma Complex Fires
The Sonoma Complex Fires exacerbated an already dire housing crisis: On October 9, 2017, the most destructive wildfires in California history began in Napa County and quickly spread to Sonoma County and into the City of Santa Rosa. After burning for over three weeks, the fires ultimately destroyed 5,283 housing units countywide, and over 2,200 residential units and another approximate 1,000 residential accessory structures in the unincorporated County. The fires impacted thousands of community members, leaving many homeless, struggling to recover and rebuild.
Before the fire, the rental vacancy rate in Sonoma County hovered below 1.5 percent (considered full occupancy) and has only gotten lower after the fire. The vacancy rate for homeownership (the percent of houses for sale) is around 1.5 percent, compared to about two percent nationwide.
Given the state of the countywide post-fire housing landscape, the Board of Supervisor’s subregional housing production goal is 30,000 units countywide by 2023, including 3,375 new units on County-owned land. The subregional goal was informed by research by Beacon Economics, and accounts for historic unmet housing needs countywide, housing units lost in the fires, and anticipated employment growth and economic forecasts. In the unincorporated County, the Board has a goal of rebuilding 2,000 destroyed units and building 1,000 new accessory dwelling units within the next five years.
The average number of new units permitted by the County from 2013–2017 was 716 per year. Of those, the current average number of new accessory dwelling units is 50 per year. Meeting this ambitious goal will require innovative new funding and policy mechanisms. According to Beacon Economics, “the local economy has become severely constrained by little or no growth in the County labor force, partly because of the high cost of living”—failure to meet the housing goal will impact the County’s ability to grow its economy and recovery fully from this disaster.
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