Spotlight on Housing: Sonoma housing crisis hits renters hardest
Dozens of home rentals are available in Sonoma Valley at any given time, which would seem to contradict the refrain that there is a lack of housing in the region. It’s not the number of rentals on the market as much as it is the paucity of housing for those with low or restricted incomes, said housing professionals and those who assist the financially challenged.
“We currently manage 70 rental communities that house 10,000 people in Sonoma and Napa counties, which is amazing, except that there are 15,000 families on our wait list,” said Laurie Lynn Hogan, director of fundraising and communications for Burbank Housing.
Burbank Housing is a local nonprofit that builds and operates affordable housing units in the North Bay for people of limited and low incomes. In Sonoma Valley, the company owns and operates such apartment units as Cabernet Apartments, Firehouse Village, Oak Ridge, Sonoma Creek Senior Housing, Sonoma Valley Apartments, Springs Village and Village Green. Five of those properties have an open waitlist; two are closed.
Getting on the waitlist does not guarantee getting a unit.
“Because our housing is affordable there is a high demand. All of our properties have waitlists due to the demand,” said Annie McNeany, director of property management for Burbank. “Applicants can remain on our waitlists anywhere from three to nine years.”
Property management companies such as Sonoma Management, which listed 25 rental properties in a recent advertisement in the Index-Tribune, has properties that range from $1,100 a month for a one-bathroom studio apartment to a four-bedroom, three-bathroom estate for $5,800.
The smaller, lower-priced units don’t stay on the market long, said Jane Saravia, marketing administrator for Sonoma Management. But demand, she said, is from families who need more space.
On RentCafe.com, the range of prices and square footage was varied. An 800-square-foot two-bedroom, one-bathroom unit on Donald Street rents for $2,400 with a deposit of $3,600, for example, and a 1,413-square foot three-bedroom, two-bath house on Chase Street rents for $3,500 per month.
Anthony Hakim, project coordinator for Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said that, according to the U.S. Census, median rent in the county is about $1,650 per month, and is “continuation of an increasing trend in rental prices.”
According to RentCafe, the average rent in Sonoma is $2,100 for an apartment size of 1,109 square feet.
Rent vs. income
For an individual working in Sonoma earning minimum wage of $12.50 per hour, being able to afford any of the aforementioned units is all but impossible. Using RentCafe’s rent affordability calculator and a minimum wage earner’s monthly gross income of $2,166, a worker can afford a monthly rent of $649, assuming there are no monthly debts such as a car payment or student loan.
The steep cost of renting in the Valley hits the low income and limited income renters hardest, said Vicki Schnurpfeil, coordinator and rent chair for FISH (Friends in Sonoma Helping).
“For three years we’ve watched the increases,” Schnurpfeil said. It started shortly after the 2017 Sonoma fires, she said.
FISH provides financial assistance to residents from Kenwood to Schellville, and demand for help is huge, Schnurpfeil said.
“The biggest increase didn’t go up $50, it went up $300. That’s really hard for working people to afford,” she said.
Last year FISH provided 308 families with rental assistance for a total of $188,000, which accounts for about three-fourths of the nonprofit organization’s total income. FISH, which provides food, clothing and other assistance, partners with La Luz Center, another nonprofit that supports economically disadvantaged families and individuals, for translation services and helps people fill out applications.