The Braydon apartments, Napa

The Braydon apartment complex, where the first 20 of 282 units were available for occupancy at the end of July, is the latest addition to Napa's supply of rental housing.

A housing market notorious for exceptionally tight supplies has gained a touch of breathing room for renters, with possibly more to come as apartment projects near completion.

Napa’s annual survey of rental complexes showed a vacancy rate of 2.3 percent in late July, city officials told the Planning Commission on Thursday. That rate contrasted with the mere 1 percent vacancy level reported in 2018, the lowest figure of the decade and a symbol of the increasing difficulties faced by tenants in a city with chronically short supplies of affordable housing.

Even with the increase in available dwellings, Napa officially remains in a “severe” rental housing shortage under city law, which defines that condition as a vacancy rate of 3 percent or less. But a spate of apartment projects under construction or gaining approval are expected to boost local supplies in the coming years, officials said.

The first 20 units at The Braydon, a 282-unit complex west of Soscol Avenue’s auto showroom corridor, were available for occupancy at the end of July. Elsewhere, work continues on the Stoddard West Apartments, a 50-unit complex that will be reserved for renters making less than Napa’s median income, as well as the 48-unit Napa Creek Village apartments, where eight units will be income-limited.

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All three projects are expected to have dwellings that will qualify for the 2020 vacancy study, which covers only apartments that have been certified for occupancy for at least six months.

Other rental housing complexes awaiting building permits include the 171-unit SoCo on Central Avenue, formerly named Pietro Place; the 50-unit First Street Apartments II west of Highway 29; and the Manzanita Family Apartments, with 51 income-limited units at Soscol Avenue and Old Soscol Way.

Napa calculates vacancy levels by surveying at least 80 percent of rental developments with at least 20 units each, except for those that offer meal or maid services. For this year’s survey, city staff called or personally visited property managers from July 22 to July 26, reaching 87 percent of local rental complexes, according to assistant planner Jose Cortez.

Results of the survey determine whether any apartments can be converted to condominium ownership, a step the city allows only when the share of available rentals is above the city’s 5 percent “shortage” level. No rental-to-condo conversions have been authorized since 2005 – the last time Napa vacancies were above the minimum – when the changeover of 80 apartments at Cadillac Flats and Marina Vista won council approval, but was never carried out.

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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.