Sonoma County housing remains problematic for students

While Sonoma County is quickly becoming an attractive seller’s market, the landscape for rentals continues down a bleak path, making it a pertinent topic to Sonoma State University students who live or wish to live off campus. 

Over the past three years, rent in Sonoma County has increased 30 percent, placing the average rental at $1,579 per month, according to Real Answers. 

This stands in contrast to a recent study by realtor.com, which lists Sonoma County as fifth in the nation in how fast houses are being bought and sold. 

Shawn Kelly, a Santa Rosa Junior College student and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, recently began the process of buying a condo in Rohnert Park with his fiancée. 

“It’s terrible down here,” said Kelly. “You’re looking to pay $500,000 for a three bedroom, two bathroom, living room, dining room and small backyard.”

Kelly and his fiancée opted instead to buy a $206,950 condo on Enterprise Drive, which he said is an amazing price for a two bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom condo.

In the coming weeks, Kelly and his fiancée will move into their new home. Yet, their ability to do so has been the culmination of well-thought planning.

The pair took advantage of being first-time homebuyers, which allowed them to place nothing down in initial funds. Secondly, Kelly’s service in the army allowed him to take advantage of Veterans Affairs’ home loan, which approved them for a $500,000 loan at less than 2 percent interest. Kelly and his fiancée, who work at Target and Starbucks respectively, earn $3,600 to $4,000 per month. In order for them to live comfortably, the pair budgets their mortgage and bills to be around $2,000 or less per month.

In the past months, Kelly and his wife lived with family, allowing them the opportunity build their savings account. 

Kelly said the dynamics of students may differ, but the most important thing to do is save money. If a student were living at home, he said it would be wise to get a part-time job and save as much money as possible.

“If you are renting, shove as many roommates as you can in the place,” said Kelly. “Shove them into the walls. Have like 12 people living there. It’s all about saving money. If you have bigger savings, you are more likely to get approved.”

Unfortunately, many apartment complexes forbid tenants beyond who signed the lease to live in the apartment. Unless students are shoved into walls with no one the wiser, the burden of payment falls to the lease signer. 

According to an available listings search on apartments.com, the average cost of rent in Rohnert Park for a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment is $1,458. The highest rent in Rohnert Park is at the Windsor at Redwood Creek, priced at $1,805 for their lowest priced unit. The lowest available unit is at Dalewood Apartments at $1,025. 

Besides living for free, with parents or another arranged situation, student residencies on campus are the considered the most affordable option. 

The Sonoma State website lists a Cabernet Triple per academic year at $9,886, as the lowest residency on campus. The highest priced residency is Sauvignon Single at $14,688. Both plans include a meal plan.

And yet, on campus housing for the academic year has increased as well. According to statistics provided the Institute of Education Sciences, average housing at Sonoma State room and board is currently priced at $11,799. This price increased 7 percent since the 2011-12 academic school year. 

Sonoma State Housing Services does not have any agreements in place with off-campus residencies, but does provide varied resources. Every month, Housing Services provides updated availability listings for apartments in Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma and Santa Rosa. Any locations outside this area are not listed as they are considered too far from campus. 

Sonoma State Housing Services is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Contact methods include by email at ssu.housing@sonoma.edu or by phone at 707-664-2541.