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Agile villages for fire victims as template to fix CA housing?

After a fire destroyed over 5,000 homes in Santa Rosa, California, locals got together to help their neighbors: one resident donated her side yard, architects donated time and about a year later the Homes for Sonoma village, with 5 modern modular homes and 2 RV spaces, was born.

The land was originally zoned for single-family housing, but after the fire the city of Windsor (adjacent to Santa Rosa) changing their ordinances around ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) to allow for more units and greatly reduced fees ($5,000 instead of $40,000) for those agreeing to rent their units at below-market rates. They also allowed owners of these “granny flats” to hook up to the main house utilities instead of the added expense of building out all-new hookups.

The housing emergency isn’t just related to the fire damage, but to an extremely pricey housing market pre-fires with a median house price of $576,000 and a vacancy rate of 1.1%. As Homes for Sonoma board member Dan Blake explained to us, even before the fires his office at the Sonoma County Office of Education was working on strategies to stop the outflow of talent as new teachers struggled to pay the rent.

Homes for Sonoma continues to create pop-up villages with a cap of 5 years maximum stay, but they’re also experimenting with working with homeowners to help fund backyard units. For those homeowners without the $150,000 required for a turn-key unit, they will provide up to 75% of the financing and rent-share with the owners until the investment is paid off.