Rising housing costs push more residents to rent

In Sonoma County, more residents are opting to rent instead of purchase homes. According to a report released by the Sonoma Economic Development Board, the number of homes purchased in Sonoma County in 2016 dropped 6 percent from 2013-2014.

The report attributes this significant drop to the rising costs of houses in Sonoma County. Currently, the median list price in Sonoma County is $525,000, up 2 percent ($9,000) from 2015, according to RealtyTrac.com.

The increase in demand for rental properties has contributed to an increase in monthly rent prices as well. Rendinosrealestate.com, a website owned by income property specialists and realtors David and Erika Rendino, lists the average asking price for rent in Sonoma County in 2015 as $1,685, a near $500 increase from 2007.

“Living here comes with a ‘sunshine tax’ and the closer you get to the Bay Area, the more expensive it gets,” said Kim Hutcheon, a real estate agent with Vanguard Properties.

In Rohnert Park, the average monthly rent is$1914, an 8 percent ($240) increase in the last six months alone according to rentjungle.com.

For Sonoma State University students who live off-campus, such as senior psychology major and soccer player Madison Minton, this proves to be a bit problematic.

“Originally, I looked for houses near Sonoma Statefor only three bedrooms, four people, but they were so outrageously expensive we had to combine with three others in a six-bedroom house,” said Minton.

Minton currently rents a six-bedroom house in Rohnert Park, a five-minute commute from the university, with six other people, although that was not her initial plan.

Originally, the group of four had a three-bedroom house lined up, but the landlord raised the rent $800 two months before they were slated to move in. Unable to afford rent, the group was forced to combine with another.

Aside from pricing, renters are forced to compete with other applicants for housing, which can put college students at a disadvantage, as they run the risk of going against renters with better credit scores.

“When we found the six bedroom house, there was not that many people that we were competing with, but with the three bedroom there was a lot,” said Minton. “Since it was my first time moving out on my own with no help, I did not have any credit, so it was impossible to compete with other people who had established good credit.”

Minton, who is originally from Santa Rosa, lived at home with her parents until she decided it would be more convenient to live closer to school instead of commuting 20 minutes each way. But, the closer you get to Sonoma State, the rent increases.

“Strong demand to live by the university and limited supply caused both home prices and rents to climb,” said Hutcheon, who also added that Sonoma State has one of the highest off-campus living costs.

At first Minton planned on staying at her current house for a while, but Sonoma County living expenses are making her reconsider.

“Watching my bank account go farther and farther down, I am starting to consider moving back home to save money, or look for a place in Santa Rosa or Petaluma,” said Minton. “Anywhere other than Rohnert Park because it is so ridiculously expensive.”

One of Minton’s roommates, senior sociology major Ashley Luis, echoed the statement, saying she too would look for other living options.

However, Santa Rosa and Petaluma are not any cheaper, with the average monthly rent priced at $1850 for Santa Rosa and $2407 for Petaluma, according to rentjungle.com. They also provide a longer commute.

So what makes Sonoma County such an expensive place to live?

“The short answer is job growth in the Bay Area and a lack of new housing in Sonoma County,” said Hutcheon. “Our local economy is one of the strongest in the nation. Job growth in San Francisco and Silicon Valley is creating rising rental pricing that is significant, which pushes outwards to the North Bay.”

Another factor is the limited supply of housing options. According to Hutcheon, fewer builders are constructing new houses and apartment complexes since the 2008 market collapse, known as the “Great Recession.”

However, things are looking up for Sonoma Statestudents. While not owned by Sonoma State, the University District subdivision, located across from the Green Music Center, is under construction. With it’s promise of 1,236 housing units and it’s proximity to campus, the University District will bring additional housing options to students.

Until then, students who don’thave the option of living rent-free with family or renting a house off campus do have the option of living in one of Sonoma State’s six on-campus housing villages, where rent can be covered by financial aid for those who qualify.

Sonoma State’s website also provides a list links to help with off-campus housing assistance, as well as tips and companies that can offer further assistance. http://www.sonoma.edu/housing