Increasing rents, evictions changing the face of Sonoma County

Columnist Christine Edwards.

Picturesque Sonoma County - how lucky we are to live in such a safe and serene environment. Some of us are here for the few short years we are studying at Sonoma State University.

Others will decide to settle here for the time being, possibly long-term, maybe by landing a job in the ever-present wine industry. We have some of the best weather, access to any type of outdoor activity one can imagine: You name it, Sonoma County has it. People are generally nice and trustworthy, rare if you have lived in a big city like San Francisco.

Conveniently located, Sonoma County is north of San Francisco and a reasonable commute distance to the city. It’s no surprise for this reason, young professionals looking to settle down and start a family in a safe community, flock to cities like Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Healdsburg and Sebastopol.

If you do decide to call this place home for the foreseeable future, bear this in mind: Rent in Sonoma County has gone up to 40 percent since 2012, and is projected to continue to rise in the years to come.

Landlords and current homeowners, but more importantly, property management companies and investors, are seeing this opportunity to pull in the big bucks. They are swooping up as much available housing as they can and even resorting to kicking out current low- to middle-class families in below-market-rate rentals in order to rent to these professionals swarming the area. Finding affordable housing within Sonoma County has become increasingly difficult, and it’s only going to get harder.

Just this February, eight families were kicked out of a small apartment complex in Petaluma after receiving eviction notices shortly after a new owner bought the property and raised their monthly rents by $700. This is one of the many examples of investors driving out current lower income families and making room for the wealthy professionals moving here.

The faces of the surrounding communities will soon change, as people who have lived here for decades will no longer be able to afford to do so. With this healthy real estate market, hundreds of apartment complexes amounting to thousands of units have been sold in the last couple of years, and only about 1 percent of apartment units in Sonoma County are vacant. This creates intense competition, and leaves little opportunity for evicted families to find a place nearby to relocate to.

In order to afford to live here, one must make quite a healthy salary, as the current average price for a two-bedroom apartment is over $1700. This is bad news for students and others who are working with a single salary that’s less than six figures. Making it here is difficult, it’s incredibly expensive and very stressful as a new graduate or young professional.

Some cities within the county are currently considering addressing this legal battle between landlords and tenants due to demand from activists and local groups such as the North Bay Organizing Project, which is leading the “right to a roof” campaign. Currently, it’s legal in Sonoma County to evict tenants for no reason, a practice that has increased in recent years.
Politicians in Petaluma, Santa Rosa and Healdsburg are now being pushed to reconsider existing housing laws that will hopefully change in the near future, erring on the side of protecting tenants and not leaving them high-and-dry with nowhere to go.