I grew up in a middle class family. We didn’t have a lot of extra money, but we were comfortable, never lacked for our basic needs, and had enough financial wiggle room to take a few modest vacations. My dad bought a townhouse in his early 30s and when we blended families with my stepmom and new sister, we benefited from increasing real estate values, and moved into a single-family home on a corner lot. There, we had enough room for my sisters and I to have our own rooms, a guest room, a double driveway where I could practice free throws, a backyard big enough for ping pong and parties, all within reasonable walking distance to my junior high, our family doctor, a grocery store, and the Santa Rosa Plaza, then in construction.
I had the privilege of closing and locking my bedroom door when I needed to be alone. I had the privilege of worrying about whether or not my parents could afford the latest designer jeans or Sperry Topsiders instead of whether or not our electricity would stay on, or if we would have enough to eat. My sisters and I had consistent dental, mental, and physical healthcare, without worrying, or even discussing the cost. There was no need for me to have a part-time job; I was able to prioritize school and sports, and any money I made babysitting went prettymuch directly to The Last Record Store.
My parents both worked hard and for sometimes long hours—we were latchkey kids for sure—but they were almost always home in time for family dinners and generally available if we needed help with our homework.
In short, I got to be a kid, and one with few significant worries.
As we head back into the school year, it’s important to remember how many of our nation’s children do not have the privileges that I had. The reports we released this Spring, 2023 State of Housing in Sonoma County, and Making the Rent: the Human Price of Housing Cost Burden report, reveal the number of local families impacted by the scarcity and high cost of housing, and how they are impacted.
More than half of the county’s households are cost burdened, meaning they pay too much in rent to meet their basic needs, and a quarter are severely cost burdened —shelling out more than half of their income to keep a roof over their heads. Housing cost burden makes it nearly impossible to save for emergencies; causes families to forgo healthy food, health care of all types, results in chronic stress related to finances, and means that kids endure the disruption of frequent and unplanned moves.
A quarter of Sonoma County’s children live in overcrowded housing. This overcrowding was the primary driver of pre-vaccine COVID and always presents a health risk. Teachers during the pandemic had a window into overcrowded homes, witnessing their students in busy homes struggle to find quiet places to study, to think, or to decompress. They also saw the converse; young children left alone too soon because their parents were too busy working and could not afford child care, and parents who want to be involved in their kids’ educations but can’t because they simply have to work too much.
Students are not the only ones impacted by the housing crisis; our county’s schools consistently struggle to fill teaching and other school-staff positions. Teachers report the scarcity of affordable housing and the declining likelihood of homeownership as a barrier to living and working in Sonoma County.
It is no wonder that our county’s population of kids and young families is shrinking—there are more affordable places to live without even moving out of state. Sonoma County’s average home price exceeds the state average by nearly six figures, and the county’s rents currently average about $400 more a month than the state average. At the same time, local educational outcomes are suffering; Sonoma County’s high school graduation rate is two percentage points below the state average, and the percentage of the county’s seniors that graduate having met the requirements to apply to a UC or CSU lags behind the state by a staggering ten percent.
While we have not studied whether or not there is a causal relationship between the county’s educational outcomes and the housing market, the correlation is clear and it seems like a pretty safe assumption that there is some impact.
Investing in the future of the county, and the whole North Bay, a future where we all thrive, requires creating strong futures for the kids of this county, which in turn requires that we keep a laser-focus on solving our housing crisis. And that’s going to require that we all get involved in solutions. As the kids of this county return their attention from summer to their 3Rs, we have a homework assignment for you: Resolve to be part of the solution and take one simple action to support housing solutions before Thanksgiving break.
Here are some ideas:
+ Write a letter to the Editor telling our elected leaders that you support bold housing policy solutions.
+ Add your name to the list of endorsers of the Bay Area Housing for All Regional Bond Measure, which will bring more than $400 million to Sonoma County for housing.
+ Investigate whether you can build an ADU (Granny Unit) on your property with Napa Sonoma ADU
+ Have room in your home to share? Contact Share Sonoma.
+ Become a Generation Housing Member
+ Join the Gen H Action Team
+ Register to attend (and attend!) the #WeAreGenH Housing Champions Event on Sep 22, 2023
+ Get smart on housing:
- Attend one or more of Generation Housing’s Fall Education Events and bring a friend.
- Read our recent reports!
- Watch our Housing Experience short films:
- Education & Housing
- 20 Somethings & Housing
- Farmworker Housing
+ Contact us to add your housing experience — our collection of short narratives that help put a human face on our housing crisis
Let’s all, especially those of us who grew up in safe, stable, affordable housing, step up for our kids.