New Petaluma apartments open, but you can’t rent them

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This month, a new 92-unit apartment complex opened in Petaluma, a city beset by an acute housing shortage. But those new Marina Crossing residential units are not on the market or available to the general public. The entire complex at the Petaluma Marina is owned by Sonoma State University in a unique deal that provides housing for staff of the Rohnert Park institution.

Interest in the complex is high — about 70 SSU employees are already on a short list and will be given move-in priority.

Neil Markley, associate vice president of administration and finance for SSU, said the slightly below market-rate to market-rate complex is available to the school’s full and part-time faculty and staff for a maximum stay up of three years.

“Marina Crossing gives us the opportunity to attract and retain the best employees,” he said. “The housing supply in Sonoma County has contracted and prices have risen. These 92 units give us a place to house employees in transit or people just moving to the area. We may also use Marina Crossing as short-term accommodations for job candidates who are doing interviews and guests of the university.”

The complex has studio, one-bedroom, one-bedroom-plus-den, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units, with a mix of different units on each floor. The complex is pet-friendly — it allows a maximum of up to two pets and requires a pet deposit. Markley said SSU employees who sign a lease are welcome to have roommates.

Prices range from $1,774 a month for a 439-square-foot studio to $3,300 a month for a 1,239- to 1,273-square-foot three bedroom, two bath. Each unit comes fully equipped with full kitchens, and full-size appliances, including washers and dryers. Four of the units are furnished, with the expectation that they will be reserved for short-term visitors.

Marina Crossing’s amenities include a reserved parking spot, a wellness studio, access to the complex’s lounge, an outdoor communal space with a bocce court, dog run, and fire pits, and the choice of different paint palettes for units. The complex is a short walk from a one-mile marsh trail that links the Petaluma Marina to a two-mile circular loop through Shollenberger Park.

“Marina Crossing is also very close to public transportation. There’s a bus stop in front on Lakeville Highway,” Markley said. “The complex is about a mile from the Petaluma SMART train station. A resident can ride a bike to the station, take the train to Rohnert Park or Cotati, and then bike to SSU. The facilities have storage space for kayaks and bicycles…(and) four electric charging stations for EVs.”

Marina Crossing is also within walking distance of shops and restaurants on Lakeville Highway and a short drive from Petaluma’s Kaiser Permanente campus.

“In addition, the building has a number of sustainable features, including solar panels on the covered parking, drought-tolerant plants in the landscaping, high-efficiency appliances, and programmable thermostats,” Markley said. “Our plan (over time) is to raise rates below market increase so our rates will become even more affordable. There will start to be a big price difference between the rates here and the rest of Petaluma.”

Markley said the market rate increase has been about 10% per year. The consumer price index was 3.9% this year.

Markley added that SSU will have a lower cost of operating than the average landlord because public universities can issue tax-exempt financing at reasonable rates.

“Our interest rates are half of what a developer would have to pay. Yet we still need to break even and reinvest back into the property,” Markley said. SSU has debt service on the property, but also made a cash contribution to the project.

The university is considering what to do if the 22 open units remain vacant.

“We have had discussions with other local colleges and universities,” Markley said. “California State University campuses would have first priority in allowing their employees to rent here. If the units are not filled with SSU employees, other educational and governmental employees will be given the opportunity to rent. We retain the ability to rent to the general public if the units remain vacant.

Erin Bricker, SRJC’s director of district and community relations, said SRJC is not currently considering a partnership with SSU regarding housing.

“We are focusing on the development of student housing on our Santa Rosa campus because that’s where we saw the most urgent need,” Bricker said. “Once we finalize student housing we will re-evaluate the need for employee housing, including potential locations.”

Jeny Patino, executive director of housing, dining, and conference services at San Francisco State University, said SFSU had initial talks with SSU, but later deemed the distance was too far for its staff and faculty to travel.

“If any of our employees or serious candidates are interested in living in Petaluma, we would refer them to work with SSU. They could develop an arrangement to live at Marina Crossing,” Patino said.

Petaluma housing administrator Sue Castellucci said SSU had conversations with the city of Petaluma about Marina Crossing, but the city does not have an official opinion on the property.

“It’s a private piece of property. It’s not affordable housing. The units were always going to be market rate,” she said.

Castellucci said the city is watching to see how Marina Crossing will affect the local housing market.

“We do a vacancy survey every six months. We will be looking at how many units are rented out. I expect that SSU will want to get as many units rented out as possible,” Castellucci said.

Marina Crossing represents a positive turn toward “doing housing differently,” said Elece Hempel, executive director of Petaluma People Services Center.

“The traditional model of finding housing at a reasonable price is not working,” she said. “SSU decided that it wants a quality workforce and is going to provide housing for it. This takes the pressure off employees who won’t need to constantly look for their next housing situation.”

Hempel said many features of Marina Crossing are beneficial.

“It’s environmentally-friendly, close to public transportation, and offers units for families,” Hempel said.

She added that Marina Crossing residents are relatively close to downtown, where they can enjoy local parks, restaurants, and entertainment.

“Petaluma residents who put dollars into our local economy are a win for everyone,” she said. “It would help if SSU employees carpooled or took the train. That would take pressure off the freeway. It’ll be fascinating to see what this looks like three years from now.”

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