Results from a recent housing survey confirmed what many people looking for a place to rent in the City of Sonora have already learned – rental costs are becoming increasingly unaffordable for most tenants.

The survey was sent via mail to all 2,399 housing units in the city as part of the process to update the housing element in the city’s General Plan, which must be done every five years under California law.

Rachelle Kellogg, the city’s community development director, went over the results of the survey with the Sonora City Council at a public meeting on Monday.

Rental households accounted for 203 of the 734 completed surveys that were returned to the city.

The number of owner-occupied households that were overpaying was 183, or 35 percent, while the number of rental households was 116, or 57 percent.

People are considered to be overpaying when their monthly housing costs exceeds 35 percent of their monthly income.

“It’s pretty blatant we have an issue going on with rental housing,” Kellogg said. “People renting are really being hit hard right now.”

Part of the problem is due to a lack of vacancies, as well as wages that aren’t keeping pace with the increasing costs of rent.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the city’s median household income was about $42,000, while the statewide median was about $67,000.

Kellogg interviewed managers of 17 multi-family housing facilities in the city, five of which were restricted either to seniors, people with disabilities, or low-income.

The 12 non-restricted facilities had a combined total of 163 housing units, only two of which were available to rent. Monthly rents ranged from $610 to $1,200 based on the size of the unit.

Managers reportedly said that they rarely advertise units when they do become vacant, and they are usually occupied within 30 to 60 days.

Kellogg said more people seem to be moving back to areas like Sonora where it’s easier to get places. She also noted an older demographic is moving to the area for the number of nearby health care facilities.

There’s also an issue with an increasing number of viable properties being used for short-term rentals, such as Airbnb. Kellogg said there are 34 known Airbnb units in the city that could have otherwise been sold or rented.

“We’re going to be bringing back some ideas and policies and programs and goals” to help with the rental market issue, Kellogg said.

One of the ideas Kellogg suggested could be to encourage the development of more accessory dwelling units, which she noted the city has never discouraged.

Kellogg said one thing the council will have to decide is whether to allow accessory dwelling units to be used as Airbnbs, which some areas are making rules to prevent.

While requiring accessory dwelling units to be for long-term rentals could be good for tenants, Kellogg noted that will have to be weighed with the benefits that Airbnbs can provide to the local economy through tourism.

The city’s housing element will need show through zoning that the city can accommodate the development of 115 new housing units by 2024, a number allocated by the state based on overall housing needs and area-specific factors.

Tuolumne County’s requirement is 525 new units.

“The city has to demonstrate that we have enough properly zoned property to fit the amount of housing units needed,” Kellogg said. “We do not have to construct them, just show that we can accommodate them in our housing element.”

Kellogg plans to present an updated housing element to the council for approval in October, after getting approval from the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Also at the meeting on Monday, the council voted 4-1 to approve providing a portion of the roughly $5,300 needed to rent three portable toilets for a one-year trial at the homeless camp off the north side of Stockton Road.

The city’s share of the funding will be a maximum of $1,750, while the Sonora Area Foundation and Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency have agreed to provide the rest.

Councilwoman Connie Williams voted against the funding agreement, despite working behind the scenes to help bring ATCAA into the fold, because of the lack of support from the county.

“I’m very disappointed with the county that they couldn’t come up with $1,750 to support this project,” Williams said. “I understand there is a problem with money in the county, but they do have discretionary funds.”

The county is facing a $3.7 million budget deficit.

The land in question is owned by brothers Larry and Delbert Rotelli outside of the city limits, which required the council to make a finding that using the money to improve the health of the city’s homeless population would ultimately benefit all city residents.

Give Someone a Chance, a Jamestown-based nonprofit organization that provides aid to the homeless, will receive the money for the toilets as a donation and assume all liability and responsibility to oversee them.

Councilwoman Colette Such thanked the various people who helped make the project happen.

“This isn’t a solution to homelesness, but it’s a small step to make their lives a little easier, protect public health and protect the merchants from putting up with things they shouldn’t have to put up with,” she said.


Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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