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Affordable housing an important election issue

Petaluma is my hometown. The Phoenix Theater was like Mecca for me and my angsty teenage peers, and I learned to drive a stick shift on our bumpy country roads on the outskirts of town.

But as an adult here, trying to maintain a foothold in the town that I know and love is no easy feat. Each month I am faced with decisions like pushing back a doctor visit or the maintenance on my car for another month. This leaves me with a profound sense of unease and distress.

In the last 6 years, my rent has been raised three times, two of those times only mere months apart. If the rent goes up much more, I don’t think it’s feasible to continue to live and build a life here. And now with fires burning in our county once again, I fear that is exactly what is coming.

So as a native Petaluman, renter, and now laid-off worker, I feel compelled to write about the current state of affordable housing, or lack thereof, here in Petaluma.

I know I am not alone. In these uncertain times, countless Petalumans are worried about their family’s safety, security, and quality of life.

According to the California Housing Partnership, prepared by the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, 39.2% of Sonoma County households are renter occupied. Renters in Sonoma County have to earn $44.13 per hour, or four times the state minimum wage, to afford the median asking rent of $2,295. So it is not surprising that 76% of our lowest income residents are paying more than half of their income for housing costs.

The California Housing Partnership also says that Sonoma County needs 16,296 more affordable housing units. Petaluma is roughly 13% of the population, meaning our share of the affordable housing needed is 2,078. To date, we have permitted 126% of our market rate housing goals, but only 15% of our affordable housing goals. For renters like me, this discrepancy cannot be ignored. At some point, the price tag and the sacrifices we make to live here just don’t outweigh the benefits.

Yard signs are popping up around town, a reminder that election season is in full swing. I question the values and commitment that the current members of the Petaluma City Council have to low income and working class households.

Over the next few years, Petaluma will update its General Plan, the document that will determine our city planning priorities for years to come. I feel a significant sense of urgency to elect leaders who will fight for Petaluma’s low-income and working class residents.

Petaluma, let’s not get too distracted by the national election that we forget about what is at stake locally. Let’s press each candidate about their plans to make Petaluma a place where all people can dream of living. We are a blue-collar town, and our leaders should reflect that. If the incumbents do not tell us how they are going to change these troubling trends, we the people should make a change on Nov. 3rd.

(Alison Talbot-Jones is a renter who lives in Petaluma.)

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