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Association of Bay Area Governments puts number on Sonoma’s housing goals

New construction in Sonoma

Here’s a rundown of the number of new units for which the City of Sonoma issued construction permits for over the last decade, according to the city Building Department (2021 numbers have not yet been released):

2011: 1

2012: 0

2013: 4

2014: 10

2015: 16

2016: 40

2017: 14

2018: 35

2019: 57

2020: 7

The City of Sonoma will need to make room for at least 311 new housing units in the coming years, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments – more than double what was called for the last time the association anticipated Sonoma’s housing needs.

ABAG, the regional planning agency which determines future housing needs for the nine Bay Area counties, approved its latest round of Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, for local jurisdictions on Dec. 16. The City of Sonoma’s RHNA for the next cycle, which runs 2023 to 2031, is for a total of 311 units.

The housing needs for Sonoma Valley areas outside the city limits weren’t specified in the “Final RHNA Plan” released by ABAG, though the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County as a whole will need to add 3,881 units in nine years, according to the report.

The housing needs allocations are based largely on expected population and job growth.

Sonoma Planning Director David Storer said it’s important to keep in mind that the RHNA numbers aren’t a mandate to develop the housing – only to have the space for its potential development.

“There’s no requirement on any jurisdiction to build,” Storer told the Index-Tribune this week. “But we have to show we have the land available to build that number.”

Sonoma’s allocation of 311 reflects the number of new housing units the city needs to plan for when it updates its Housing Element, the part of the city General Plan that addresses strategies for providing sufficient housing within the city limits.

Sonoma still has two years left under its current Housing Element, which reflects housing needs to 2023, and has already built more than its allocation of 137 units under the current cycle. (Storer said Sonoma exceeded its allocation in 2021 and the exact number of units built will be part of its annual report to the state Department of Housing and Community Development in April.) In October, city officials said 170 units had been built since 2015, including 24 very-low-income, 35 low-income, 35 moderate-income and 76 above-moderate-income.

Not only has Sonoma’s housing-needs number more than doubled – from 137 to 311 – since the last cycle, ABAG is pushing for more affordable units than in the past.

Each municipality’s RHNA numbers are further broken down into four income categories: very low income, low income, moderate income and above moderate income.

Under its current housing element, Sonoma’s RHNA numbers call for 35% of its new housing be for very-low-income or low-income units. In the next cycle, ABAG is expecting 42% of Sonoma’s units will be needed for those low-income categories.

When the current Housing Element cycle is complete, Sonoma will have met its quota for all four income categories, said Storer.

“We have equaled it in one category and exceeded it in three others, based on our calculations,” Storer said.

Sonoma Mayor Jack Ding is confident the City can also reach its RHNA goals for the next cycle.

“We can do that,” Ding said about accommodating the 311 units, adding that replenishing the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund will be key, after its funds were used for rental assistance during the pandemic.

“Increasing the money in our Affordable Housing Trust Fund will make Sonoma more attractive to nonprofit, affordable housing developers, and make hitting the RHNA target easier,” Ding said.

The RHNA process has five main objectives, according to ABAG: increase housing supply and affordability; promote infill development and socioeconomic equity; improve the correlation between jobs and housing; bring balance to the proportion of income levels within jurisdictions; and actively further fair housing.

While ABAG is expecting Sonoma to more than double its housing allocation in the next cycle, the City is still on the hook for only 0.07% of the units called for throughout the Bay Area, where 441,176 total housing units are expected to be needed over the course of the next decade, according to the Final RHNA Plan.

The Sonoma City Council and the Planning Commission have scheduled a joint public meeting on Jan. 25 to discuss the preparation of the new Housing Element and receive a report on steps taken to date by staff and the City’s Housing Element consultant. The meeting will be held virtually.

The City of Sonoma must submit its updated Housing Element to the California Department of Housing and Community Development by Jan. 31, 2023.

Email Jason Walsh at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

New construction in Sonoma

Here’s a rundown of the number of new units for which the City of Sonoma issued construction permits for over the last decade, according to the city Building Department (2021 numbers have not yet been released):

2011: 1

2012: 0

2013: 4

2014: 10

2015: 16

2016: 40

2017: 14

2018: 35

2019: 57

2020: 7

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