Editorial: The dividing line over affordable housing

“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around – I’m gonna keep on walking, marchin’ up to freedom land” – segregation-era protest song

Among the arguments waged by opponents of a proposed 49-unit affordable apartment development planned at a 2-acre parcel at 20269 Broadway is that such a dense site for low-income housing would divide low-wage earners from the larger Sonoma population – it would be “nothing short of segregation,” as one letter-to-the-editor writer put it.

Read: Ghetto Sonoma.

Whether one supports or opposes the idea of the planned lower-income project of developer Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA) on a County-owned property currently supporting a rotating series of billboards, there’s no denying its critics’ a couple of bones of contention: some additional traffic is assured, and any new facility changes the makeup of a neighborhood to some degree, for good or bad.

But there’s one thread of the oppositional argument which follows a more unique path: that the introduction of a single, ostensibly minority-serving development within a wealthy community is in itself segregationist – in effect, ghettoizing the poor from the larger, often affluent white community that is the rest of Sonoma.

It is a supposition at once outrageous to so much of Sonoma’s upper-middle-class progressivism, and yet just lucid enough to give one pause. After all, this is a lone subdivision on the outskirts of town intended to, at some level, wrest the city from its in-recent-time times dismal representation of the working class – and to satisfy ABAG regional housing demands, to boot. Can this well-intentioned attempt to allow local workers an opportunity to live within the community they serve be, in effect, the makings of another Tulsa?

Well, no. In fact, it’s more the opposite.

It’s true that many urban areas across the country have implemented Department of Housing and Urban Development fair-housing initiatives – and found themselves baffled over how to prevent further economic segregation in their communities. But that situation isn’t as typical in the suburbs. According to a Cleveland State University study published in 2014, segregation among low-income people in the suburbs “exists largely between suburbs rather than within suburbs.”

The study, “Suburban Poverty and Racial Segregation” led by Rutgers professor Paul Jargowsky, essentially argues that the real difficulty with suburban integration is that the affordable housing is often placed outside the wealthy suburban municipalities – initiated by regional or County mandates – and therefore kept from integrating with the market-rate neighborhoods associated with affluent suburban downtowns. On a local level, this concept has been exemplified in recent years by the burgeoning Hispanic community in the Springs.

But, if nothing else, an affordable housing development on Broadway would be an opportunity for lower-wage earners to live near the bustling Sonoma business district, its Plaza community hub and schools in higher-income neighborhoods. It would be a step toward Sonoma shedding a little of its deserved-or-not closed-community reputation.

Ever since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, communities across the country have struggled to combat concentrated poverty.

To that end, last summer HUD established a new rule requiring cities and regions every five years to evaluate the status of fair housing in their communities, issue reports detailing any local segregation and submit plans on how to alleviate it.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro said last year the new steps would be tied to federal housing funds and community development grants.

“This... will give local leaders the tools they need to provide all Americans with access to safe, affordable housing in communities that are rich with opportunity,” said Castro.

Whether one believes the 49 units planned for the southern end of Broadway is ill-advised based on community character or traffic or the lack of viable billboard space in town is one thing.

But I’m sure no one would argue with the idea that keeping a community as ours – one so “rich with opportunity” – accessible to everyone is what Sonoma is all about.

Email Jason at

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