It’s nearly impossible to find anyone who doesn’t think the North Bay needs more housing – and housing that is affordable to someone whose income is less than six figures.
For local leaders, the October wildfires transformed a housing crisis into a housing emergency, and officials are responding with new, bold thinking.
Sonoma County and Santa Rosa city leaders are busy knocking down barriers to new construction, slashing fees, shortening permit times, removing caps on multistory buildings and promoting city-centered developments.
That’s all good, except that while well-meaning civic leaders are pushing hard for new housing, two initiatives are having a chilling effect on new projects at the very moment they are most critically needed.
One initiative is statewide and one is local.
Last month, the secretary of state confirmed supporters of an initiative seeking the repeal of the 1995 Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act had received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.
Costa Hawkins limits rent control to units built before 1995. Its repeal would potentially open the doors to rent control on all rental units and even extend regulations to homes and condominiums.
In addition, in Sonoma County, a labor-backed rent-control initiative that is much more punitive to landlords than a 2016 Santa Rosa law repealed by voters appears to have gained enough signatures make the November ballot.
The reaction: Many real estate investors, financiers and developers have hit the pause button on projects in the planning stages as these two initiatives have cast doubt on their financial stability. The projects include a new, multistory, 100-plus-unit development in downtown Santa Rosa. Other developers are asking themselves if investing in local projects is worth the financial and regulatory risk.
The North Bay, and in particular Sonoma County, desperately needs more housing. For the first time in memory, anti-building groups, governments, business and developers are finding common ground in support of urban and transit-oriented developments. With these statewide and local rent-control initiatives, this unique moment to bring people together and get as much new, well-thought-out housing built may pass us by.
For the last decade and a half, housing policies have effectively slammed the front door on everyone except the most affluent in our communities and have created a severe shortage of all kinds of housing. Our communities and businesses are losing people to more affordable areas.
Community-minded developers are ready to invest in our cities and counties, so we can retain and attract people to live and work here. Scaring developers, investors and capital away won’t help.
Brad Bollinger is the publisher of North Bay Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.