Generation Housing releases new annual report on state of Sonoma County housing
A pro-housing group advocating for 58,000 more homes in Sonoma County by the next decade has launched a new annual report that aims to give local policy makers, developers and others a data-driven overview of housing in the region.
Generation Housing, which launched in early 2020, released its “State of Housing in Sonoma County” report this week.
The nonprofit created the report by analyzing publicly available local, state and federal databases and highlighting its findings.
Jen Klose, the group’s executive director, said the report is in part a response to local elected officials who’ve said they feel frustrated by the lack of easily accessible data about housing needs in the county.
“It can be a little bible they can have with them all the time when looking at housing and housing-related policy decisions,” Klose said.
Some of the report’s key findings include:
- Between 2000 and 2019, Sonoma County’s housing stock grew 13% from around 183,000 units to 207,000 units, with most growth happening in the first decade. (Wildfires since 2017 destroyed about 6,000 local homes, equating to more than 5% of Santa Rosa’s stock.)
- Owner-occupied homes make up more than 60% of homes in the county, but newer homes are more evenly split between for-sale and for-rent.
- Rohnert Park is the densest city in the county with about 6,100 people per square mile, compared to an average of 4,000 people per square mile for local jurisdictions.
- White households are twice as likely to own a home in Sonoma County compared to Black households.
- Four in five households making less than half the area’s median income — $58,150 a year for family of four — pay more than 30% of their income on housing, making them “rent burdened.”
Generation Housing argues the county needs to build 58,000 new homes for people of all income levels by 2030. That’s far above the county’s upcoming state-mandated goal of roughly 14,500 units between 2023 and 2031.
Klose said that unlike the state’s goal, her group’s target is what’s actually needed to shift the supply and demand equation enough to meaningfully bring down the county’s high housing costs.
During the pandemic, rents and home prices have climbed even higher, as people from urban centers, many untethered from the office by remote work, pour into the suburban North Bay.
The median sales price for single-family homes in the county for all of 2021 skyrocketed to $769,000. That’s a nearly 10% jump from 2020’s record median price of $700,000.
In 2021, rental prices hit an average of $2,167 for one- and two-bedroom units, an almost 13% increase from the year prior, according to data from Apartment List.
To actually reach Generation Housing’s moonshot home-building goal, Klose said, local jurisdictions will need to zone for, and approve, many more dense multifamily homes in urban centers near public transportation.
Additionally, she said building more of what housing advocates describe as “naturally affordable” duplexes, townhomes and condominiums across the county will be an important step.
“It has to be a diversity of homes and a diversity of policy solutions,” she said.
At the same time, Klose said the region should put a priority on creating more cost-restricted, affordable housing — which often takes longer to build due to a lack of available public financing, among other challenges.
Between 2015 and July of last year, the county approved just 626 units for people making less than half the area’s median income. That’s only 35% of the it’s current state goal.
“We need housing at all income levels, but I absolutely agree we need to focus our effort on the lower income side.”
For many in drought-stricken Sonoma County, the thought of building 58,000 new homes may sound like an environmental disaster in the making.
But new homes with modern appliances and multifamily housing both use up less water, Klose noted, further reducing per-capita consumption in recent years. And local governments can pass new mandates to increase water efficiency, she added.
“We can’t decide not to house people because we have to use less water,” Klose said. “Instead we have to use less water.”
You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian