Make Petaluma affordable again

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A generation ago, retirement meant selling your house and moving somewhere warm like Florida or Arizona. After all, most retired couples don’t need multiple empty bedrooms once their kids move out of the house.

This migration then freed up homes for young families, assuring a healthy housing stock that kept prices affordable.

However, more and more retirees are opting to age in place, meaning we are seeing one or two people living in large homes that once housed a family of four or five. While forgoing the retirement home and growing old in the house in which one is most familiar is a benefit for many in old age, it is also having unintended consequences.

A neighborhood of 100 four-bedroom houses could accommodate 500 people at full capacity assuming families of five, but with only one retired couple per residence now, the same neighborhood can house just 200 people.

The lack of turnover in the housing market combined with a dearth of new residential construction has worsened the housing crisis in this area and has made cities like Petaluma unaffordable for many working class families. Some millennials are postponing starting families and choosing to live with parents into their 30s in those formerly empty bedrooms.

It’s not surprising that we have seen several labor actions in Petaluma recently as professionals who are working on the margins are feeling the squeeze.

Nurses at Petaluma Valley Hospital, who are in contentious labor negotiations with St. Joseph Health, demonstrated last month. Meanwhile, teachers in the Wilmar School District have threatened to strike if their demands for higher pay are not met.

Nurses and teachers are some of the most important positions in a community, and yet these workers are finding it difficult to find a place to live in this community given their current salary and housing prices. Many are forced to spend more than half of their income on rent.

Raising salaries is one solution to the affordability crisis. Building more housing is another solution.

The alternative is workers who live farther away from their jobs and must commute long distances. Petaluma workers who can’t afford to live here are driving from Fairfield or Vacaville, where housing is cheaper. The added vehicle miles traveled runs counter to the policies we should be enacting to reduce climate change.

Policymakers have a role to play in the solution. Nurses and teachers should be paid a livable wage for the communities in which they serve.

The Petaluma City Council recently adopted a $15 per hour minimum wage ahead of a state increase to $15. While this progressive step is commendable, it is still very difficult to live in Petaluma on a $15 per hour salary.

To make the biggest dent and ensure Petaluma is affordable for all who want to live here, the solution is to approve more housing.

As more people are aging in place, the current housing stock is not changing hands like it did in he past. The younger generation deserves to have housing that is affordable, just like their parents did.

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