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Community Development Commission

Sonoma County Housing Authority

For Immediate Release

Zach Powers of Sebastopol named as Housing Hero of the month

SANTA ROSA, CA | November 17, 2022

En español »

Zach Powers, a property owner in Sebastopol and native Sonoma County resident, has been named the county’s Housing Hero for the month of November as part of an ongoing campaign to address the region’s housing shortage.

Powers has been renting out properties in Sebastopol for eight years, but started renting to housing voucher holders three to four years ago. He was unaware of the program until he got information from a local housing nonprofit, SHARE. Now, he calls SHARE or the Housing Authority whenever he has open units because, he says, the process for filling the units is easier than going through normal means.

“It feels good to provide housing to people who really need it and provide housing that is safe, secure and stable,” said Powers.

The County of Sonoma and City of Santa Rosa launched the Housing Heroes campaign in September in an effort to encourage greater participation in housing rental assistance and home-sharing programs offered across Sonoma County. Too many residents are challenged to secure quality housing, even when they have housing vouchers in hand.

“Sonoma County and Santa Rosa, as with many jurisdictions around the nation, have received hundreds of additional housing vouchers from the federal government as part of its massive response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Supervisor Chris Coursey and Santa Rosa Councilmember Tom Schwedhelm wrote in a recent joint guest opinion column. “While those vouchers are a welcome shot in the arm to a community that has suffered lost jobs, lost income and lost housing, the vouchers can only help if the people who hold them can find a landlord willing to accept them."

They noted that there are currently 306 individuals, couples and families in Sonoma County who hold these vouchers. “Housing vouchers — also commonly called Section 8 — are not always seen by landlords as equal to rent,” the officials noted. “That’s a big reason why those 306 voucher holders in Sonoma County can’t find a way to use them. It’s why, last year, more than 150 vouchers expired, each loss extinguishing a chance at affordable housing for a struggling individual or family.”

Those who have benefited from the program include Erin McDermott of Rohnert Park, who has agreed to share her story as part of the Housing Heroes campaign. Erin grew up in an unstable housing environment and fell into a cycle of homelessness as a young adult. She was following the same pattern as her mother, who died while being homeless. But her life changed when Erin learned about the housing voucher program while she was part of the Sober Living Environment program. A case manager helped her obtain a housing voucher, and they found a landlord in Rohnert Park who was willing to accept it. She said the voucher is what broke her family cycle of homelessness and allowed her to reunite her family. She was able to have her children live with her under one roof. Her adult daughter has since moved out, has her own place and is living a stable lifestyle.

“The voucher is what enabled me to completely rebuild my life,” said McDermott. “When the basic needs are met, people can really thrive.”

Some of the benefits that Powers said he has experienced from renting to Section 8 Housing Voucher recipients include always receiving the rent on time, not having to charge below market rate for his rentals and often ending up with long-term renters.

The County of Sonoma invites the public to hear Zach Powers of Sebastopol and Erin McDermott of Rohnert Park tell their stories and experiences in videos that are available on the Housing Heroes webpage: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/housing-heroes

Or view them on the Sonoma County Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLpC1ZfafmU&list=PLi1-rnF1nMqorzfwT WClFPdUXD8f_Ler-

Housing Vouchers assist very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled in being able to afford decent, safe, and clean housing. With these vouchers, participants are able to secure housing, including single-family homes, townhomes and apartments. A subsidy payment is made to the landlord directly by the Housing Authority on behalf of the participating family or individual and the renter pays the difference between the actual rent and the subsidy amount. Any type of housing is eligible as long as rent is reasonable in the market and the unit meets standards - decent, safe and clean. If a property fails an inspection or there are issues, the owner would need to correct the defects prior to the unit being approved by the Housing Authority. For minor repairs, the Housing Authority may have funds to assist with correcting the issue.

Vouchers are often considered to be better than cash, as the Housing Authority will directly deposit their portion of the rent into the property manager or owner’s account each month. Landlords can charge the full rent as long as it’s reasonable and not higher than other similar units in the area. To ensure tenants can be successful, the Housing Authority will not approve a unit where the tenant is required to pay more than 40% of their income for rent. The goal is for tenants to be successful in their rental experience.

Factors that impact housing affordability include the fact that renters in Sonoma County need to earn $37.19 per hour, 2.3 times the minimum wage in the cities of Petaluma and Santa Rosa, to afford the average monthly asking rent of $1,934. Everyone deserves a home.

Learn more about becoming a Housing Hero or nominate a Housing Hero in the community at: https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/housing-heroes

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Contact Information: 
Sylvia Lemus, Communication Specialist 
publicaffairs@sonoma-county.org
575 Administration Drive, Suite 104A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 565-3040

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