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Placeholder Image Attendees look on at the Encuentro panelists
photo credit: Noah Abrams/KRCB

As part of its diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, Healdsburg hosted another in its series of community encuentros - meetings - focused on the experiences and histories of the city’s underrepresented populations.

Living Together: Housing and planning for a better future.

That was the topic of discussion on a rainy Thursday night, March 9th, at the Healdsburg Community Center for the latest community encuentro.

Three local housing experts, Deb Kravitz, chair of Healdsburg’s housing element work group; Stephen Sotomayor, the city’s housing director, and Margaret DeMatteo, a tenant lawyer with Sonoma County Legal Aid addressed housing needs within the city.

Posters for new Healdsburg developments such as the Mill District and Saggio Hills lined the walls.

Not all in attendance were happy about the new developments, especially one attendee, Zeke Guzman.

"You are pushing people out," Guzman said. "You are pushing people out. When you allow Mill District to come in and you have a sign that says 1.6 to 8 million, you're telling poor people you're not welcome."

Guzman put specific words to his feelings about what the new developments are.

"Systemic economic racism," Guzman said.

Guzman sayid rather than deed restricted affordable rental units, Healdsburg’s agricultural and hospitality workers, and the working poor generally, need a path to home ownership.

One way is through sweat equity, the method Habitat for Humanity uses to incorporate future owners as part of the construction crew.

Residents roundly expressed a desire to remain in Healdsburg, where many say their children have grown up; and they expressed hurt and anger over the spiraling price of rent, high utility costs, and sparse supply of affordable rental units.

Healdsburg resident Rosaura Garcia said the dearth of affordable housing has left her sons unable to live and work back home in Healdsburg as they’d hoped.

"My son's 23, he's going to graduate from the Stanford Graduate School of Education," Garcia said. "He was trying to look for a job in this county and then he started looking at the housing market; and I have my other son who's 26 actually teaching now at a private school here in town, but he's thinking about giving up that job to move into a different county where he can afford his own place and still be able to work."

Deb Kravitz said Healdsburg has made some direct moves to try and keep residents in the community.

"While we're waiting for some of these new developments to come online, the City of Healdsburg has actually purchased a couple of existing apartment buildings that tend to cater to a lower level of rents and a lower level of income tenant," Kravitz said. "And that's an effort to keep people in our community, to prevent those buildings from being sold and renovated and up-scaled and gentrified and driving people out."

One message attendees sent to city officials in attendance: be honest about who the new housing is being built for.

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