Sonoma County is the 10th most expensive county in the nation to live in, but one solution to the affordable-housing crisis might be a public-private-nonprofit effort, according to a nonprofit builder.

Since 1984, Habitat for Humanity of Sonoma County has built 22 homes in Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Cotati and Sebastopol deed-restricted as affordable dwellings. Occupants of these homes include mechanics, teachers, janitors, National Guardsmen, skilled tradespeople, sales and retail trade managers, accounts-receivables clerks, veterinary technicians, counselors and plumbers, according to Tamara Stanley, CEO.

The local affiliate has 22 homes in the pipeline to build currently.

“As you can imagine, 22 homes is a nice thing we have done, but when you look at the future need of 1,000 new affordable homes by 2022 — that’s over 140 new homes per year — we’re going to need to do something a little bit different,” Stanley said at North Bay Business Journal’s Construction Industry Conference in Santa Rosa on May 12.

That means “breaking down the logjam” to open the flow of affordable homes from the drawing board to the construction crews. The Sonoma County affiliate of Habitat has been working with developers and local government development departments to build higher-density homes and take the lead in building the affordable-housing component of projects.

The for-profit, not-for-profit developer tag team has been employed for the affordable component of other North Bay projects. For example, Hugh Futrell Corp. in 2010 brought in nonprofit Burbank Housing Corp. to build all 51 affordable-restricted apartments in an $11 million, five-story project at Seventh and Humboldt streets in Santa Rosa.

Habitat’s Sonoma group has taken cues from how its affiliates in other high-cost areas of the Bay Area and elsewhere in the nation are tackling affordability. Two of them are based in San Francisco, working on projects in Novato and the city, and in the East Bay and Silicon Valley, where condominiums and multifamily complexes are the answer.

Habitat’s Sonoma group taps AmeriCorps to staff local projects to keep project costs down.

“Many people say, Habitat is a wonderful program; you give away homes,” Tamera Stanley. “That is one of the most common misnomers, other than Jimmy Carter started it.”

While the former U.S. president has been involved with the organization since 1984 as its most prominent booster, the Atlanta-based international organization was started in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller.

Potential candidates for homes come to the organization and are assessed for whether they are in homes too expensive for their income and too small for their families, Stanley said. They are evaluated on their ability to pay their half of the 30-year mortgage then must attend a six-week financial literacy course.

“Which helps that we have never had a foreclosure in a Habitat home,” Stanley said.

Those approved for a home then put in 500 hours of “sweat equity” into the construction of their dwellings. From evaluation to move-in can take 18 months.

Jeff Quackenbush (, 707-521-4256) covers construction, commercial real estate and wine.