homeless hands with house

COMMENTARY — Recently, Healdsburg passed an important milestone in our pursuit of more affordable housing. Jan. 26 marked five years to the day that the city launched a robust and multi-year program to tackle the city’s housing issues.  At a special city council meeting that evening, then mayor Shaun McCaffery presided over the start of an eight-month council and community education series entitled ‘Housing Our Community.’  

Since that first presentation, the city went on to organize and complete over 15 more housing workshops, created a Housing Advisory Committee, conducted two ballot measures to modify the GMO, wrote an innovative Housing Action Plan, (and then re-wrote it again), increased the TOT to create over $500,000 per year in new dollars for affordable housing, hired a housing administrator with a focus on raising money and getting affordable housing built, modified city ordinances to accelerate the development of ADUs, modified the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance to increase fees and the role private development plays in supporting new affordable housing, and further explored the linkage between commercial development and housing. 

More than just adding capacity, dollars and policy revisions, the city has built new housing. 68 new units of deed-restricted affordable housing, another 52 units of market rate housing purchased to be converted to deed-restricted affordable housing, and approving 40 more units of affordable housing as part or the new Mill District development. This totals over 160 units – a 40% increase in the city’s affordable housing stock in just five years. 

While affordable housing is a challenge facing every community in our region, it is truly impressive what has been accomplished in Healdsburg since that first city council housing primer in January 2015.

As we debate the merits of 3 North for either affordable housing or a community pavilion, it is important that housing advocates recognize and embrace how much has been accomplished in such a short period of time.  Liveable cities are not built by managing to a crisis — they are built from a great vision, steady execution, and understanding the value of key civic sites to serve the full community.  

In my opinion, 3 North is a good affordable housing site. But, 3 North is a great civic landmark and economic development anchor site. There are many other city owned sites (several of which were not included in the recent study the city conducted) that have all the same locational and tax credit advantages as 3 North. But none of them have the same community landmark or economic development potential as 3 North. Great placemaking requires understanding how each public asset can be leveraged to its fullest advantage, for the greatest number of people. 

It’s time to celebrate the amazing amount of work that has been accomplished on the affordable housing front and acknowledge there are many other opportunities to continue building more housing. But lets not let the vague promise of tax credits and a crisis mentality preclude a once in many generations opportunity to build a defining element such as our communitypPavilion.  This addition to our civic infrastructure will serve everyone, in many ways beyond just housing.

Jim Heid is a sustainable development consultant and infill developer. He worked for the city of Healdsburg as a consultant from 2015-2016, leading housing workshops, as part of the team that wrote the city’s Housing Element, and was the prime consultant charged with writing the city’s initial Housing Action Plan.

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