Two Petaluma proprietors have formed a coalition and distributed a petition in a rallying cry to urge local elected officials to address a lack of affordable housing in the city, a trend they say is crunching small business and inflicting hardship on employees.
Husband-wife duo Angelo Sacerdote and Lina Hoshino, who founded the Petaluma Pie Company, have led the charge in creating the nascent Small Businesses for Affordable Housing in Petaluma group. At their downtown business, the Petaluma residents have seen their 13 employees priced out of the city or struggling to make ends meet in their current homes, which they say has an impact on their ability to do business, maintain affordable prices and retain a quality workforce.
“When you’re a small business, you kind of want everyone to be able to work nearby and when they move farther away, they’re at the whim of a car breaking down or their bus running on a holiday schedule, all those kinds of little things that you might not think about,” he said. “It’s a huge extra burden for them and increases your stress level and that’s why we’re advocating to find a solution.”
The couple isn’t alone in their plight: after knocking on the doors of other local businesses last month, they collected 100 signatures from owners and employees echoing their concerns. The group sent the petition to state and county officials and addressed the city council at its Feb. 4 goal setting meeting, imploring the panel to help identify and implement a solution as the housing crisis sweeps across Sonoma County and the greater Bay Area.
Among those impacted is Stephanie Reagan, who’s working three jobs to make ends meet while struggling to split the rent for her Petaluma home with her boyfriend. The 32-year-old works 12 hours most days, a schedule that cuts into her quality of life, but one she said she needs to maintain to stay living in her hometown near her jobs, family and friends.
“It’s pretty sad because it’s not all the local hometown people that have grown up here, it’s all people coming in from other cities renting these homes at top dollar that we can’t afford,” she said, adding that the pair doesn’t qualify for the city’s affordable housing complexes and it’s been “impossible” to find housing in their price range.
Though Sacerdote said he doesn’t think that the lack of affordable housing will signal the demise of the city’s small business community, he’s fearful of the long term impacts of the tight market on employees and business owners who may also be priced out.
The vacancy rate in Petaluma’s major apartment complexes hovered just below 2.5 percent as of October 2016, according to a biannual city survey. The average market rate rent for a one-bedroom apartment was $1,893 a month, spiking up to $2,675 for a three-bedroom home, according to the survey. Sacerdote said some of his employees make just enough money to boost them over the line of eligibility for affordable housing, leaving them with few options. For those who do qualify, wait lists often range from 12 months to two years, Housing Coordinator Sue Castellucci said.
Onita Pellegrini, executive director of the city’s chamber of commerce, said her organization has long advocated for the creation of workforce housing to cater to employees of businesses of all sizes. She said the lack of local housing poses a “quality of life” issue.