Close to Home: Workforce Housing Shortage is Already Here

There was a statement in Pete Golis’ otherwise insightful and well-written column last Sunday that I can’t let go unchallenged. He cited Ketchum, Idaho as a community having a serious problem providing housing for their lower-wage tourism industry workers.

After noting correctly that Sonoma County isn’t Ketchum, he went on to say “But it’s not too soon for business and community leaders to begin to worry.”

Begin to worry? I can assure Pete and all Press Democrat readers that the shortage of housing in the North Bay and the impact it has on the ability of business, agriculture, government, education and nonprofit organizations to attract and keep employees has been the No. 1 topic of concern for most leaders for a decade, if not longer.

In fact, during my 20-plus years as CEO at the North Coast Builders Exchange, I have participated in countless forums, workshops, study sessions, government meetings and lobbying efforts with one topic — where will our workers live and what are we going to do about it?

The general consensus among business and community leaders is that the housing shortage is no longer just a problem — it is a full-fledged crisis. The fires over the past five years and the deadly pandemic in the past 18 months have only exacerbated a problem that has been getting worse, even in non-disaster years.

Fortunately, organizations and associations that represent business, agriculture, construction, high-tech and tourism in particular have been tackling the issue head-on for a long time. For example:

Several years ago the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber took the lead in creating an Employers Housing Council, comprised of the heads of large employers in business and government. That group is providing startup funding for developers of affordable housing projects to ease their burden.

A relatively new group, Generation Housing, is laser-focused on educating the general public on the desperate need for housing in our area, in case there are still any doubters. The group also effectively marshals support at public meetings for affordable housing projects to help elected officials develop the political will to vote for these badly needed projects, even in the face of all-too-frequent small but vocal opposition.

The North Bay Leadership Council, Sonoma County Alliance, Sonoma County Farm Bureau, North Bay Association of Realtors, Engineering Contractors Association and the Builders Exchange are examples of groups that are shining a bright light on the housing crisis and that regularly support efforts to spur both affordable and market-rate housing.

Economists have estimated that the North Bay needs to build 30,000 new housing units (that’s not just homes, but multifamily units as well) in the next 5-10 years, and that number could even be called conservative. Business and community leaders have known the magnitude of the housing shortage for decades and understand the effect it has on our community’s ability to have a stable workforce that can afford to live here.

I just want to assure people that even though there is still much to be done, local leaders have been deeply involved in seeking housing solutions for years and years, and we’re not just “beginning to worry.”

Keith Woods is chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange.