How to reduce Sonoma County housing costs to build the workforce: Santa Rosa chamber CEO
Peter Rumble was named CEO of Santa Rosa Metro Chamber in January 2018, coming from stints as Sonoma County director of health policy and deputy administrator.
At the county, he helped launch the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program. During the October 2017 fires, he was one of the leaders in guiding emergency response.
Ahead of the Business Journal’s May 29 Building the North Bay conference, at which he’ll be speaking, we talked with Rumble about the scope of the housing challenge facing the region, what it means for economic growth and potential solutions.
What has your organization been doing for the postfire economic recovery and rebuild?
We focused on a number of initiatives, not just with fire but also now with the (February west Sonoma County) flood to help economic recovery and rebuild. They range from supporting housing construction, as well as financial assistance to businesses to weather the storm, so to speak.
On the housing front, primary among our efforts is the employers’ housing council. This is a group of the largest employers in the county, a group of around 15 employers coming together to take care of a few goals. The first is to continue to keep a focus and a pressure on building the housing that we need for the workforce that we have today as well as the workforce that we need tomorrow. That’s certainly around rebuild, but we need to look beyond rebuilding.
I think it was then-Mayor (Chris) Coursey who said it best: We can’t afford to rebuild back to a housing crisis. We need to continue well beyond simply rebuilding. That’s goal one.
The second goal is to receive presentations from individual developers and consider directly participating in individual projects, either through lease agreements or direct investment.
Third, we are putting together a local housing trust. This is a pool of funds raised through local capital development — corporate donations, foundation donations, private investment — to be able to make a pool of funds available to developers for the costs that typically aren’t available through banks, or whatever that development might need to help get a project off the ground. So that’s a massive effort on the housing front.
How are things progressing?
Very well. We have had a number of meetings, have heard presentations from different projects, and have had follow-up conversations on those projects with individual companies to see if there’s something to be worked out on a one-to-one basis.
We are very close to launching the housing trust. We’re working out some details under the surface for how it will work and what criteria will be used to select projects. A great example of what we are building through this is the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership. In the span of a couple years, they launched the housing trust and were able to invest in four projects. Several hundred housing units were able to be built in the tri-county area of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.
How large of a trust would this be?
We have, certainly, ambitions. It’s a revolving-loan fund, so it’s not a grant program. The dollars will continue to build on themselves over time. It’s also not the Google Foundation. We’re probably talking in the range of $15 million–$20 million. That will handle a couple projects at a time. Over time, those investments would be paid back and then be made available for future projects.