Margaret Van Vliet, Director of the Community Development Commission
Margaret Van Vliet, Director of the Community Development Commission made a presentation on the role that her organization plays in helping to solve housing problems for people with limited means. She has been working in this capacity most recently in Oregon. She is experienced in all the regulatory aspects of affordable housing, low income housing, and finding shelter and ultimately permanent living spaces for homeless people.
Comunity Development Commission is a non-governmental agency that reports to the Board of Supervisors of Sonoma County. There are four major areas that her commission works on. First, they provide money to care for people at risk of becoming homeless as well as for the actual homeless population itself. They do this through contributions to agencies which actually provide the services to this segment of the population. Secondly, they are the Housing Authority for Sonoma County. They are responsible for administering Section 8 programs of HUD. This includes voucher distribution for affordable housing. Currently there are 3000 vouchers allowed for Sonoma County. There are 4000 peole on the waiting list to receive these vouchers and the average wait time is approximately four years. Thirdly, they help with the financing of affordable housing through working in project development, particularly with nonprofit developers. One of their major partners as Burbank Housing. (Our Club has recently heard a presentation from Burbank Housing in October, 2016). The final area of involvement deals with helping existing homeowners with low interest loans. These help with financing for necessary upgrades and additions to help the elderly stay in their home. They also help with upgrading homes for flood protection and doing minor repairs.
The funding for the commission comes from multiple sources. Federal money comes from HUD and FEMA, and as with all federal money it comes with regulations, rules and restrictions that at times are quite complicated to follow. There is also money coming from the state as well as county funding from the transient occupancy tax and the general fund. Frequently this county money is used to match federal or state money to increase the amount of money that is available for programs.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is very active with promoting programs to reduce homelessness and to increase the number of people able to afford homes. Working with the Community Development Commission they are trying to incentivize the private sector to build more units. To that end they have created a “Building Homes Tool Box” that helps developers deal with financial, regulatory aspects of housing as well as to encourage thinking outside the box as to what actually constitutes a house or home.
One of the successes the commission has had relates to converting the Palms Inn on Santa Rosa Ave. into 104 units for housing limited income people. 64 of the residents are veterans and were eligible for a special voucher program which helped this project succeed financially. In this program, there are also consolidated services for “reentry” of the participants into the workforce where they may be able to earn enough money to afford different types of housing. It is always been the goal of the commission to adopt policies that help move people towards independence and decreased needs for public assistance.
There are currently approximately 2000 homeless people in Sonoma County. Approximately 100 live in Healdsburg, 300 in the North County region. These numbers are probably under estimates as it is difficult to achieve an accurate account for multiple reasons.