Teresa Windish was barely getting by, in a county growing more costly seemingly by the day.
Subsisting on $945 a month in Social Security, the 54-year-old woman was paying $200 per month for a room in an American Canyon house packed with seven other adults. “It’s awful living here,” Windish said of the overcrowded conditions. But it was, at least, a home – until, she said, the landlady, without formally evicting her, told her to clear out by the first of October.
For someone with barely $11,000 in annual income, the options for a new home seemed so small as to be almost nonexistent. Napa County officials reported rents on two-bedroom apartments starting at $1,900 in older buildings and rising as high as $2,500 – more than what Windish was paying for a whole year.
“I’m not opposed to going out of the county,” she said in September. “I’ve looked everywhere; I just can’t find anything.”
It was a story that remained all too familiar in 2017, as the run-up in rents and home prices – and a stubborn scarcity of housing – persisted in the valley and across the Bay Area.
In the city of Napa, the vacancy rate for rental housing inched upward – barely – to 2 percent, according to a July survey of apartment managers. That rate remained easily low enough to qualify as “severe” under city zoning law, though finally above the sub-2-percent level for the first time in four years.
One of the valley’s most powerful elected leaders admitted having to cope with housing prices in her own town of American Canyon – even on a $90,000 base salary as a Napa County supervisor.
“I am a renter,” Belia Ramos said in September. “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.”
Throughout the year, city leaders did what they could to pump up a chronically short supply, giving the green light to projects promising hundreds more dwellings.
The most decisive approval was for the long-delayed Vista Tulocay Apartments, a development that will plant at least 282 and up to 483 units on a 20-acre finger of land west of Soscol Avenue’s auto-showroom corridor. Work began in the late summer on new streets linking the community to Soscol, Gasser Drive and the South Napa Marketplace.
Other projects to get the city’s go-ahead in 2017 included Vista Tulocay, Stoddard West and the Manzanita Family Apartments – developments that together will add 151 more rental dwellings, all earmarked for lower-income households.
Months or years pass, however, from the approval of housing to the moving days for lucky tenants or buyers. And meanwhile, among those who are being priced out of Napa Valley real estate are more families with school-age children – a trend that is eroding local enrollment and threatening to shrink state education funding, which is tied to enrollment.
Consultants to the Napa Valley Unified School District warned in January its schools may lose as many as 1,350 students by 2026-27, tripling their forecast from just one year earlier.
“The Bay Area housing crisis has had a significant negative impact on NVUSD,” wrote the Jack Schreder & Associates firm. “The District is shifting demographically, aging, and becoming more affluent, with corresponding declines to the relevant school aged population.”
The widening gap between home prices and the incomes to cover them weighs heaviest on the valley’s youngest adults, observed one such millennial who came to Napa from Boston seven years ago.
“My husband and I find ourselves with extremely limited options,” said Jess Lander, a freelance writer and former Register sports reporter. “If we want to stay in Napa Valley, we’re going to have to continue to rent (at least for now), but even the rental prices aren’t easily manageable.”
Statistics from the Zillow real-estate website bore out the unyielding math for those of Lander’s ilk: a median rent of $2,700 a month, and median home prices of $733,000, up 3.5 percent from a year ago.
“If half of our income goes to rent,” she asked, “how will we ever save up enough to buy a house in the current seller’s market?”
Meanwhile, Windish, the American Canyon woman seemingly with no place to go, at last got a glimmer of hope.
Moved by news reports about the destruction wreaked by the October wildfires, a woman in Southern California offered up her 32-foot motor home – 27 years old but still functional – to a person in need. The news reached the Napa County Office of Education, which relayed the gesture to the local nonprofit Share the Care, which Windish had approached in the seemingly faint hope of receiving an RV.
By mid-December, a driver brought the vehicle north to Napa for Windish to pick up. There remained one glaring problem, though; her income was much too low to qualify for a berth in an RV park. For now, she would have to find what landing spots she could find for her rolling shelter – perhaps a local Wal-Mart parking lot, though permission to bring such vehicles varies by town and store.
So the question, again, was where home would finally be, and a final answer remained just beyond Windish’s reach. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “But at least I won’t be sleeping in the road.”