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Stoddard West

Workers are building the Stoddard West apartment complex in Napa with 49 units for low-income families and individuals.

Looking for a Napa County apartment at the local median rent? To afford it without income stress – or roommates – you’ll need to make at least four times California’s minimum wage.

In a stark illustration of the valley’s affordability problem, a city housing presentation placed the median rent at $2,439 a month, meaning a renter would require hourly pay of at least $46.90. That figure stands far above the state’s $12 hourly minimum, as well as the average pay in Napa’s restaurant, retail and agricultural fields, housing and development leaders told the City Council on Tuesday.

A combination of statistics from UC Berkeley, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Craigslist listings laid bare the wide gulf between wages and housing prices, an issue that has mounted amid tight supplies and a chronically low vacancy rate.

Local waitstaff are receiving an average of $12.14 per hour, placing their affordable rent at $650 a month, the study indicated. Hourly pay averaged $14.93 for retail sales staff, $15.47 for farmworkers, $15.87 for teaching assistants and $24.26 for teachers and instructors.

“The top two industries in Napa, agriculture and tourism, they don’t pay very well,” said Councilmember Liz Alessio. “It’s not an income that supports a living wage and creates a healthy community for parents or youth.”

“This is an improvement but still it’s very alarming, for all the work we need to do.”

U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2017 indicate nearly four in 10 Napa Valley residents rent, and half the county’s tenants are housing-cost burdened, meaning they spend at least a third of their income on rent.

To fully meet the demand for affordable rentals, another 2,989 such dwellings would have to be built in Napa County, city Housing Manager Lark Ferrell told the council. She called that figure an estimate, given the number of people who work in the valley but commute from counties with less-expensive housing.

With such a shortage, 49 percent of low-income households, and 27 percent of moderate-income households, were considered to be “cost-burdened” due to housing expenses, Ferrell said.

The city report showed an equally yawning affordability gap for those seeking to buy rather than rent. Just 28 percent of Napa households are able to afford a home at the July median sale price of $689,000, which is more than double the $328,000 level within reach of a median-income family, according to Ferrell.

All told, 9.4 percent of the city of Napa’s 30,296 dwellings are considered affordable, which officials called a typical percentage in California. That total includes 1,688 units where rents are deed-restricted, along with 1,000 families receiving federal Section 8 rent vouchers and 147 others who bought homes using the city’s first-time buyer assistance program.

Meanwhile, Napa’s share of rent-limited housing is higher for residential projects under construction or in the planning stages.

Of the 522 housing units currently being built in the city, more than a fifth will be offered at affordable rents, Planning Manager Erin Morris reported. Forty-nine of those apartments will be at Stoddard West, under construction west of the Soscol Avenue auto showroom corridor, with another 34 units to become available at Redwood Grove, 19 at the Napa Courtyards and eight at Napa Creek Village.

Affordable dwellings also comprise 314 of another 973 units already approved by Napa or under review, according to Morris.

Bob Massaro, a Napa housing developer who founded Healthy Buildings Companies, complimented Napa leaders for putting up fewer development roadblocks than in years past, but urged closer cooperation between the city and builders – potentially by creating an advisory committee to meet monthly and share ideas between the two sides.

“Everyone in this room understands the greatest risk to Napa’s economy is the housing situation,” he told council members.” If we can’t get this housing situation under control, it’s going to be affecting hospitality, it’s going to be affecting government, and it’s going to be affecting education and everything else.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.