What is the Renewal Enterprise District (RED)?
The Renewal Enterprise District (RED) is a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) formed by County of Sonoma (County) and City of Santa Rosa (City) to implement a shared vision and agenda for regional housing development. The RED works across jurisdictions to market and attract developers, blend private financing and public funds, leverage state and federal grant funds, and facilitate creation of housing that meets established public policy goals for increased density, access to transit, protection of open space and community separators; improved energy efficiency, climate resilience, and affordability; and to advance and ensure equitable access to housing.
Why was the RED formed?
The RED was established to accelerate infill, mid-to-high density, transit-oriented housing production well beyond historic levels to positively impact the economy, reduce GHG emissions, improve quality of life, and preserve the health and well-being of Sonoma residents.
The City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma responded to the State of California’s call to action to address the housing crisis with a unique, creative, and collaborative approach – the RED. The October 2017 fires exacerbated an already significant housing shortage in Sonoma County and caused significant increases in rents and home prices. Rising costs are causing workers to commute long distances or move away, making it harder for employers—including businesses, hospitals, schools, and local governments—to recruit and retain a skilled workforce, and impacting our ability to meet local climate goals. Residents who remain in Sonoma County are left with reduced spending power, which is especially challenging for those experiencing poverty.
The housing shortage throughout California has many causes, from federal tax policy, localized opposition to growth, and complex real estate market forces, among others. Together, these factors have driven up costs, created increased uncertainty and lengthened development timelines, with the disastrous result that housing construction is lagging far behind job growth and housing needs.
Increasing the pace of housing production requires new approaches and heightened levels of collaboration across all sectors. The RED is creating a trusted, replicable and enduring model of housing and community development to meet the changing needs of the 21st century.
What are the County and City Doing Differently to accelerate infill housing development near services, jobs and transit?
In addition to establishing the RED, the City has taken the following steps to incentivize infill development:
- Reduced discretionary action for housing projects in the downtown and the City’s four other Priority Development Areas to increase certainty and reduce time and cost
- Implemented a Downtown High‐Density Residential Incentive Program: up to 67% reduction based on height, including a deferral of water and sewer fees, with additional reduction for affordable units
- Updating a Downtown Specific Plan Update to consider increasing building height, and decreasing parking requirements
- Created an “Express Permitting” process for downtown infill, designed to take an 18‐ month process down to approximately 6 months
- Created a prospectus to support the Federal Opportunity Zone in Downtown
- Implemented aggressive Density Bonus – up to 100% density bonus in the Downtown Station Area Specific Plan
- Authorized the evaluation of city property in the downtown for housing development partnerships
The County has taken the following steps to incentivize infill development:
- Created a comprehensive Recovery & Resiliency Framework that emphasizes the importance of new housing approaches to the overall health of Sonoma County https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/Office-of-Recovery-and-Resiliency/Recovery-Framework/
- Engaged Bay Area Economic Institute to develop data and indicators of economic and social well‐being that can be tracked publicly and used to guide policymakers into the future—coming soon
- Garnered new sources of funding and financing to promote housing development
- Entered into negotiations with a developer for new housing on a parcel of County‐ owned land which will benefit from an innovative economic partnership
- Enacted new ordinances and streamlined administrative processes to accelerate construction of accessory and other small units in unincorporated Sonoma County
What are the Next Steps?
Launching new infill, mid-to-high density, transit-oriented housing projects will require pooled financial resources to address funding gaps. Funding sources being cultivated include the Governor’s budget, which allocated hundreds of millions of dollars to address housing needs–$500 million for Infill Infrastructure Grants, $250 million for Local Government Planning Support Grants, $650 million for local homeless programs, and $500 million in housing tax credits. AB 101, the implementation language for various housing assistance programs funded through the budget, provides that cities and counties that have an approved housing element and that have implemented “pro-housing local policies” to be given preference points when applying for specified grant programs. Establishing the RED, in addition to pro-housing actions noted above, places the County and City in a strong position to capture funding. Private and philanthropic funding is being pursued as well.
The RED Board and stakeholders are working together to establish criteria to evaluate RED project applications. There are two steps included in the criteria, currently in draft form. Step one requires every proposal submitted to meet threshold criteria, including that the project— 1) must be on an infill site; 2) must provide mid-to-high density development; 3) must be located entirely within a Transit Priority Area, Priority Development Area, Rural Community Investment Area, Specific Plan Area, High-Quality Transit Corridor or Qualified Opportunity Zone; and 4) must be residential or mixed use residential. Step two identifies additional evaluation criteria that will be utilized to rate projects meeting all threshold criteria. While projects do not need to meet all evaluation criteria; the most competitive applicants will provide the highest level of community benefit by including one or more of the following features:
- On-site affordable units
- On-site workforce housing
- On-site “Affordable by Design” units
- Proximity to Transit
- Energy Efficiency
- Water Efficiency
- Excellent and innovative design
- On-site child care
- Prevailing wage
- Public outdoor spaces
- Bicycle or pedestrian connectivity and/or pedestrian access
- Serves a Disadvantaged Community
- Off-site construction of affordable housing, workforce housing or units that are “affordable by design
- Project readiness
While threshold criteria are required components of any RED project, the evaluation criteria are used only to rate applications. Applicants are encouraged to include desirable features in their projects but are not required to include every listed feature.
The RED Board will continue criteria deliberations and consider public input at its next regularly scheduled meeting. Check the RED webpage for details and agenda materials– https://renewalenterprisedistrict.org/meetings/