Administrators of a multi-million dollar local loan fund established to speed post-wildfire reconstruction say it's starting to pay dividends--327 dwellings under construction, and another 295 in the pipeline.
Launched with twenty million dollars from PG&E's wildfire settlement, the Renewal Enterprise District's Housing Fund isn't a bank. Think of it more as a lender of last resort, but without onerous rates or crippling terms.
It's focused on transit-oriented, in-fill development---building on vacant or underused lots in already built up areas near a train or bus stop.
Michelle Whitman is on the fund's board of directors. She said the entity came into being as a post-wildfire trend became apparent.
"Why do we have housing developments and projects that are entitled, so they have their permits and yet they are not breaking ground despite the housing crisis we find ourselves in."
Turns out, there was more than one answer.
"What we learned, is that in Sonoma County, against the backdrop of disaster recovery, there were labor shortages, supply shortages, by that time into the pandemic, and these projects could get within ninety or ninety-five percent of complete financing, but they had a gap at the top," she said.
That's exactly where the RED Housing Fund can come in--providing that last piece of funding, turning 'may not pencil out' into under construction.
It's especially true, she said, for apartment and condominium buildings. Risk-averse by nature, banks and other traditional lenders are reluctant, as Santa Rosa is considered a city of single family homes.
"That's a housing typology that at least in Santa Rosa doesn't really exist, so banks are looking at it and saying 'well, where are the comps?' We're not going to fully fund the project because we don't have comparables."
The hope is that the pioneering residential buildings will set an example and traditional lenders will finance similar structures in the future.