Goal: BuildNecessary Housing
About 80% of Strategic Sonoma Housing Goals are completed or ongoing.
Measure of Success
- Building Permits
- Housing Units Created
- Retained Working Age
- Residents Population Density
Collective Impact Partners
- Sonoma County Employer Housing Council County of Sonoma
- City of Cloverdale
- City of Cotati
- City of Healdsburg
- City of Petaluma
- City of Rohnert Park
- City of Santa Rosa
- City of Sebastopol
- City of Sonoma
- Town of Windsor
- Community Development Commission Burbank Housing
- North Coast Builders Exchange
- Private Developers & Land Owners Association of Bay Area Governments Metropolitan Transportation Commission
Objective: Sonoma County has enough housing to support residents at all income levels and is a odel for addressing California’s housing crisis.
Before the October 2017 fires, Sonoma County did not have enough housing to support existing residents. Many middle-class and lower-income families are unable to afford housing and live in overcrowded units. The fires destroyed 5,300 homes – making the need for housing even more acute. A Housing and Fiscal Impact Report prepared by Beacon Economics estimated that Sonoma County needs to construct at least 30,000 housing units over the next five years to account for employment growth, fire losses, and overcrowding. This number appears daunting considering only 2,680 units were permitted in Sonoma County between 2011 and 2016, but the entire state of California is estimated to need another 1.8 to 3.5 million new housing units by 2025 to absorb existing demand and population growth. In this context, Sonoma County’s housing challenge appears more manageable, if still no easy task. Building sufficient housing in Sonoma County will require coordinated and creative action from the County, all local Cities, the State, developers, construction firms, educators, and residents. If partners are able to mobilize to achieve this ambitious goal, Sonoma County could position itself as a model for addressing this pressing need in other California communities.
- Establish a permanent Sonoma County Employer Housing Council led by private business leaders and including representatives from every City, the County, non-profits, the North Coast Builders Exchange, and other relevant organizations. The Housing Council will provide a forum for communication and resources. They must work with each City to set specific goals for new housing unit construction over the next five years – ensuring that the goals of all Cities and the County collectively reach the 30,000 necessary units by 2025.
- Continue efforts to pass countywide and city housing bonds to address a variety of housing needs. General obligation bonds can be utilized to support new housing construction in a variety of ways. Other California communities have used similar bonds to invest in infrastructure to support housing, acquire land, incentivize affordable housing, assist with redevelopment, directly develop new housing, and much more. Passing bonds will help the County and Cities receive matching investments from the State of California.
- Explore flexible solutions for short-term workforce housing to accommodate construction workers through the rebuild process – for example, adjusting codes to temporarily allow trailers on and near construction sites.
- The Housing Council should establish a “30K by 2025” communications campaign. Part of this campaign should be focused on “Building Housing for All,” by educating residents about the urgent need for new housing and showing examples of how new housing could look. Without a robust, proactive communications campaign, reactionary voices can easily shape a narrative of fear (e.g., new housing will change the character of the county and its communities, traffic will be worse, and that the environment will be negatively impacted). These concerns are understandable but must be addressed by consistently telling the positive story – that new housing will allow young people and families to live in the county, that denser development will reduce environmental impacts and protect open space, that transit-oriented development will increase transit ridership and reduce traffic, and that new housing can be beautiful, green, and enhance community character.
- The communications campaign should include external marketing to home builders and developers across California and the United States. Government can only do so much to address housing needs. Addressing barriers to new development and incentivizing construction that matches strategic goals is a critical step, but local governments cannot build the housing themselves. These policy changes must be combined with efforts to let home builders know about new opportunities within Sonoma County. Marketing development opportunities will help the Housing Council and local governments find private sector partners who share their vision and are capable of building the actual units.
- The City of Santa Rosa has established a fire recovery website that provides real time updates on debris removal and home rebuilding efforts. The County and other Cities should follow this example and expand the model to provide real-time tracking of on-going housing permitting and construction.
- As the campaign leader, the Housing Council should provide regular progress reports and communication to the public about the “30k by 2025” goal. These progress reports should benchmark the County and City’s progress towards their specific housing goals within the campaign and overall progress countywide.
- The Sonoma County Regional Climate Protection Authority, Sonoma Clean Power, Sonoma County Water Agency, Pacific Gas & Electric, and other public and private environmental organizations should meet with the Housing Council, EDB, and local chambers of commerce to discuss Strategic Sonoma and support the communications campaign from an environmental perspective. This support could include public meetings, press releases, op-eds and other media pieces that lead a discussion with Sonoma County residents. Discussions should be inclusive and cover Strategic Sonoma topics – helping educate the public on the necessity of housing construction and business diversification while showing examples of how denser, transit-oriented development and other projects can protect the environment and the character of communities. This communications campaign also presents an opportunity to listen to the concerns of residents and identify new ways of mitigating negative impacts of change.
- The County and each City should conduct an inventory of priority sites for new housing development. These should include underutilized publicly and privately-owned properties. For publicly-owned sites, local governments should explore opportunities for public-private partnerships to construct housing and redevelop in a profitable manner that also addresses strategic goals and maintains community character. For privately owned sites, the Housing Council and local governments should work with land owners and private developers to identify and address barriers to new housing construction. The Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) presents a prime example site, and the County and partners should continue working with the State to explore options to utilize the SDC for multifamily housing, outdoor recreation, and other related purposes.
- Local leadership and the Housing Council should lobby the State of California to ease state regulatory burdens on new housing construction – including exploring targeted exemptions within the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), condominium insurance laws, and state building codes that limit the use of new construction materials and technology. Lobbying efforts should include representatives from the business community, non-profits, citizen groups, and elected leaders. The state legislature must understand the critical need for new regulations that allow the County and Cities to build necessary housing while continuing to protect the environment and public welfare. The Housing Council should coordinate with Bay Area planning organizations to amplify the power of lobbying efforts and identify resources available to support Sonoma County housing construction efforts.
- Establish an experienced advisory group within the Housing Council that can guide individuals, businesses, and home builders through local development processes. Members of this advisory group would act as volunteer mentors to share their experiences and help others navigate the Sonoma County development landscape. The County and Cities should also produce their own matching guidebooks and websites to clearly explain their development process, share resources, and maintain transparency.
- Review and update public policies in the County and each City to expedite the development of new housing options and ease burdens on construction. Allowing for more Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and reducing ADU fees are ways to create new housing units without new sites. Other efforts to ease the regulatory burden on development include adjusting acreage limits, height limits, permitting fees, and parking requirements. Reduced fees and other easements should be tied to strategic goals such as increased density, inclusion of affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and construction in targeted geographic areas. Cities and the County should explore ways to expand existing building codes to allow for new construction materials, technology, and design standards that reduce construction costs while maintaining environmental and other public safety considerations. Where possible, the County and Cities should create expedited permitting processes for projects that match strategic criteria.
- To address concerns related to mobility, affordability, and aging, new housing plans must encourage inclusion of affordable, workforce, and homeless housing units; mixed-income developments; senior living options; and transit-oriented development. Increased density will have the additional benefit of making transit options more cost effective. To ensure new housing serves all residents, these initiatives should support the Sonoma County Department of Human Services and other organizational efforts to meet with Latinos, seniors, disabled individuals, homeless residents, and other groups that have special needs. Their voices should be heard and perspective integrated into planning processes.
- Protecting open space and the character of Sonoma County and its Cities are important priorities for residents. Addressing these priorities while also constructing necessary housing units will require exploring opportunities for in-fill, redevelopment, reduced acreage limits, increased height limitations in urban cores, and other means of increasing residential density in appropriate locations. By building denser and higher, new housing development will have a smaller footprint and environmental impact.
- Collaborate with the Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation Commission to ensure Sonoma County fits regional housing plans and can utilized available financial and other resources.
Best Practice – Housing
Downtown Sacramento Partnership – Downtown Housing
Since 2014 the Downtown Sacramento Partnership (DSP) has taken big steps to incentivize greater density of businesses and housing in the downtown area. The DSP is working on several projects to increase housing and local business development downtown. Projects include streamlining the permitting process and exploring ways to ease transportation congestion.
Since 2014 DSP has been leading a program called Calling All Dreamers – a Shark Tank-like competition that has local entrepreneurs submit business plans, and the winners receive a startup business package worth over $100,000. Many of these entrepreneurs either open a new business or expand an existing business in the downtown area.
In 2015 the Sacramento mayor announced a goal to build 10,000 new housing units in the downtown core by 2025. The City created a number of incentives to encourage this housing, including reduced fees and expedited permitting. Progress is being made on several mixed-use projects and apartment complexes.
In addition to encouraging development, the City of Sacramento is making land development easier by supporting two bills in the California legislature that will keep more money in cities that can be used to develop affordable housing in the urban core. DSP has also taken steps to improve transportation in the downtown area by expanding regional public transportation and putting in a streetcar service in downtown Sacramento that will begin construction in mid-2018.
All of Sacramento’s downtown development efforts are being touted under the brand, “Think Downtown,” which has been sharing news about Sacramento’s downtown improvements and marketing Sacramento as THE place to live in the region.
Tiny Houses in Rockledge, FL
Rockledge, FL has been identified by the American Tiny House Association as a best practice for zoning laws related to tiny house development. Residents of Rockledge wanted more affordable living options for a range of incomes and asked the City to consider developing a tiny house ordinance. In 2015, the Rockledge City Council unanimously voted to pass zoning for a tiny houses community. The zoning regulations cover aspects of the tiny home such as minimum ceiling height, sleeping space, number of homes per pocket neighborhood, and building standards. These regulations ensure that tiny homes will be as safe and comfortable as their traditional counterparts.
New Story and Icon - 3D Printed Houses
At the 2018 South by Southwest Festival, New Story, a non-profit, and Icon, a robotics construction company, unveiled the first structurally-sound 3D printed house. The houses are approximately 800 square feet and cost around $10,000. The companies hope to bring costs down to near $4,000 soon. Homes are built in under 24 hours using a custom concrete mix that is as strong as cinderblocks. New Story and Icon hope to begin testing their 3D printed homes in countries like El Salvador and Haiti in the next few years.
New Material Manufactured Homes
The rising cost of traditional construction materials is compounding affordability issues around the country. Manufactured homes can often be more affordable, but cultural and consumer preferences have made these less attractive to buyers. New materials and manufacturing process, however, are making these homes more attractive, affordable, and customizable. More Americans are being exposed to these options as cities allow them within their zoning, and they like what they see. Manufactured home communities like East Bay in Brentwood, CA are drawing in new residents because the homes are attractive and thousands of dollars less expensive than neighboring communities.
Communities with limited availability and high cost of housing often face challenges housing all their residents, and Sonoma County is no exception. According to the 2017 Sonoma County Homeless Point-In-Time Census & Survey, there were 2,835 homeless individuals in Sonoma County on one point in time in January. At the time of the census, 35% of these individuals were located in temporary shelter with the remainder living in unsheltered conditions – 32% on the street, 2% in abandoned buildings, 18% in automotive, and 13% in encampments. Among this population, there were 111 homeless families with children.
These numbers are only a snapshot and do not reflect all of families and individuals who experience homelessness in Sonoma County every year. According to the Sonoma County Continuum of Care 10-Year Homeless Action Plan 2014 Update, over 9,700 residents experience homelessness every year – 2% of the county’s population and four times the national rate.
Sonoma County Continuum of Care and their partners have been tackling this challenge for over a decade – collaboratively following their action plan. The 2014 Update identified three key goals and projects to support them: Increase permanent affordable housing to meet the need, Ensure access to integrated health care, and Increase incomes. Additionally in 2015, The Sonoma County Community Development Commission published Building HOMES: A Policy Maker’s Toolbox for Ending Homelessness. The Toolbox provides detailed examples of policies, land use options, incentives, and other government measures to help address homelessness.
Strategic Sonoma encourages continued implementation of the Homeless Action Plan and integration of tools to City and County policies. Strategic Sonoma additionally provides direct support to two key goals – Increasing permanent affordable housing and Increasing incomes. Strategic Sonoma presents a variety of measures to increases the housing stock in Sonoma County and encourages local governments to integrate affordable, workforce, and homeless housing measures throughout the ”30k by 2025” efforts. A fundamental goal of all business diversification and all economic development efforts is to create more high-paying local jobs and provide residents with the skills and resources they need to achieve.
It is important to remember that numbers around homelessness do not tell the full story. These discussions focus on individuals and families facing significant challenges – financial insecurity, serious mental illness, substance abuse disorders, disease, domestic violence, and more. This should remind us of the human element to this perennial challenge.