At Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s April Board meeting, Lynda Hopkins, Sonoma County 5th District Supervisor and Jack Tibbetts, a member of the Santa Rosa City Council, presented the proposed Affordable Housing Bond for Sonoma County. This bond is a proposed tax of $19.53 for every $100,000 of assessed property value on every Sonoma County parcel for the next 26 years.
Seventy-five percent of the fund would be used to build housing that “serves and is affordable to extremely low, very low and low-income households.” The remaining twenty-five percent of the tax would “provide gap financing for rebuilding of homes lost in the October fires and to assist with the necessary infrastructure costs.” The bond would raise an estimated $300 million over the next 26 years.
This new tax would be added to our property tax bill annually similar to the Warm Springs Dam fee that we pay. At first glance, this tax may not seem too burdensome, however, some quick calculations demonstrate that it can add up quickly. An easy formula to calculate what this would mean for you is a reminder that we all pay approximately 1% in property tax of the assessed value of our parcel/home/farm. If your property tax is $10,000 per year (this is based on an assessed value for the parcel at $1,000,000) then the housing bond tax would be an additional $195.30. If you pay $50,000 it would mean $967.50 in additional tax per year. A good intent tax, can create a real hardship quickly for Sonoma County farmers.
After careful consideration, the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Board has voted to oppose the Housing Bond since it is another tax on agriculture. I and the Board see that there is a need for affordable housing and more housing in general, especially in light of the October fires. As much as we would like to support the intent of the Housing Bond, the financial burden is too great to our members.
Also, another consideration is that there is already an “affordable housing mitigation fee” that is paid with every new permit in Sonoma County. There has been little discussion of how our County leaders have delivered results on the money collected to date, but rather they are in a quick sprint to just create another tax.
During the presentation, both Supervisor Hopkins and Councilmember Tibbetts recognized that Agriculture is by far the most advanced of all local industries in providing workforce housing and has been doing so for decades.
A recent survey by the Sonoma County Winegrowers, that had an 82% response rate, confirmed that Ag is a leader in employee housing. Over 29% of grape growers in Sonoma County already provide workforce housing, this equates to approximately 950 bed units (this could be multi-room or single family housing). In addition, there are permits in process and development underway for an additional 259 workforce bed units by farmers. We have been supporting our workforce for years without a tax.
If the authors of the bond rewrite the Housing Bond to make the tax city-centric, i.e. applicable for Santa Rosa or other incorporated cities versus unincorporated Sonoma County, the Farm Bureau Board would provide an additional review and potentially reconsider its position.
The logical thing to do would be to make it easier, more timely, and more affordable to get a building permit through Permit Sonoma and review the impact studies and costs necessary that often slows or kills the building process. It seems this would result in more permits issued and homes built. With more homes available that should make the prices come down making them more affordable. Supply and demand economics seems to be the better path for Sonoma County’s affordable housing crisis, not another tax on agriculture.