Napa County has about $2.8 million in spending money to help tackle the region’s affordable housing problems, and county supervisors are working on strategies.
That money is the available balance in the county’s affordable housing fund established in 1992. Developers pay “housing impact” fees that typically total $1 million to $2 million annually.
Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Belia Ramos, who lives in American Canyon, sees firsthand the housing challenges arising in a county where the median home price is $600,000. The Board discussed affordable housing on Tuesday.
“I am a renter,” Ramos said. “I’m lucky I have the greatest landlords ever, my parents. Being able to enter the home ownership market is going to be a very, very big struggle for me, as a single mom.”
That’s despite having a base pay of about $90,000 annually as a county supervisor.
Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan referred to federal guidelines saying that a family should pay no more than 30 percent of its income in rent. Paying more can mean making choices about food, medicine, child care and other needs, she said.
The median income in Napa County is $91,000 for a four-person household, according to the county. Thirty percent of that income for housing translates to a monthly rent of $2,275. Rents locally for two-bedroom apartments are $1,900 a month for older apartments to $2,500 a month, Rattigan said.
“Even at the median income, it can be difficult to afford to rent an apartment in Napa County and still stay within that 30 percent,” Rattigan said.
That 30-percent mark translates to $1,863 monthly rent for a family making $74,500 annually; $1,165 for a family making $46,550 and $700 for a family making $27,950, statistics show.
Supervisors voiced their ideas for spending future affordable housing funds, though none of the proposals would erase the affordable housing problem. Rather, supervisors are trying to chip away at it.
Ramos said the county faces such restrictions as its agricultural preserve, which limits the places to build outside of the incorporated cities and town.
“We cannot believe we’ll be able to build our way out of the problem we have,” she said.
She mentioned a concept told to her by a lawyer from Southampton in England. This involves what Ramos called “stepped-up home ownership” — a person would have a mortgage on half a home and rent the other half from the county.
“It’s an untapped opportunity,” Ramos said. “Maybe we can make this work here.”
The United Kingdom website further explains the shared ownership idea. A person buys 25 percent to 75 percent of a home’s value, pays rent on the remaining share and later buys bigger shares.
Ramos also said the state of California owns a large amount of land in Napa County. Perhaps this could provide space for building affordable housing.
After the meeting, Ramos said she was referring to vacant land at Napa State Hospital, Napa Valley College and the Veterans Home of California at Yountville. She clarified she is not talking about the state-owned land used for Skyline Wilderness Park.
The county could offer some of its affordable housing money for rehabilitating older housing. One idea is to set aside $250,000 for a pilot project.
“It could be a low-income family who either currently owns or rents a home and that home is in disrepair,” Rattigan said. “It’s also as simple as we built apartment complexes 25 years ago and like all of us in our homes, we need new carpeting in our homes every now and then, we need repairs.”
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said the county’s three farmworker housing centers – dormitory-style centers for men – don’t meet the needs of farmworker families and an increasing number of women farmworkers.
Supervisor Diane Dillon and Pedroza mentioned the challenges faced by some seniors on fixed incomes. These seniors might have spare rooms where they could create “junior” dwelling units of 500 square feet or less to rent out.
“It’s a way for seniors to stay in their homes, with that income,” Dillon said.
But taking out a loan to create “junior” dwelling units can be difficult. Traditional mortgage lenders won’t qualify mortgages based on rent income without two years of demonstrated rental history, a county report said.
The county, city of Napa and other partners are looking at creating a fund that would make loans available to create junior dwelling units. About 7,000 Napa County homeowners making $75,000 or less annually are burdened by housing costs, the county report said.
Supervisors considered raising commercial housing impact fees to bring more money to the affordable housing fund, something they last did in 2014. They came to no conclusion. Rattigan wants to first compare the county’s fees with those in surrounding areas.
“The risk you run always with increasing fees is that you slow development and don’t get fees at all,” Rattigan said.
Napa County since 1992 has committed $26 million of its affordable housing fund to help build 1,000 housing units. It typically provides gap funding for new apartments and other projects also receiving grants, other loans and tax credits.
The affordable housing fund is helping to build the Brenkle Court and Turley Flats projects in St. Helena and the Valley View project in American Canyon. The county has committed to help out with projects on Coombsville and Redwood roads and at the Gasser property along Soscol Avenue.
Napa County also uses affordable housing fund money for its worker proximity loan program, homeless services and operations of farmworker centers, among other things.
In coming months, supervisors will continue their discussion on what comes next for the fund. Several stressed the county must coordinate more with cities.
“Housing is the biggest threat, opportunity and challenge all-in-one that Napa County is facing,” Pedroza said.