By John Ramos

SEBASTOPOL (KPIX 5) — In the Sonoma County town of Sebastopol, the need for permanent resident housing is so dire that elected officials are placing a moratorium on vacation rental properties because the city doesn’t feel it has a single house to spare.

Real estate in Wine Country towns like Sebastopol was already pricey, but when the fires struck and thousands of people were suddenly desperate for a place to live, the situation moved into a full blown crisis.  Home rental prices went nuts, driving up the cost of all housing. It remains high today, making it nearly impossible for young people to stay in their own home town.

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“You know, they want to live and experience and work and make their life here. And if it’s very expensive then they don’t have the opportunity to do that,” said Travis Havemeyer, an employee at the Hardcore Coffee shop.

But in a small town, it’s hard to ramp up construction to meet the demand.

“We produce about a dozen more units every year,” said Sebastopol Planning Director Kari Svanstrom.  “But that means that every unit we have is precious in terms of housing stock, especially in this current climate.”

So City Hall wants to put a moratorium on allowing people to buy investment homes and turn them into vacation rentals.

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“Somebody can come in with megabucks and buy a place and rent it out for profit at the expense of young people being able to find a place to live,” said Sebastopol resident Ann Cory-French.

The town does benefit from tourist dollars and people could still rent out a room or two to someone if they want to.  The ban would only apply to so-called “no-host” rental units where there isn’t a permanent resident living on site.

But Randy Coffman, owner of Wine Country Group realtors, says prices in Sebastopol will remain high as long as there is so little new construction.

“A moratorium might help in the short term but we really need to look at the long-term effects of creating some in-fill projects that create some affordable rentals,” he said.  He wishes the city would expand its borders to capture more open land so more resident housing could be built.

But for now the city just wants to preserve what it already has. “Preserving that existing housing stock isn’t just making sure it’s not demolished,” said Planning Director Svanstrom, “but really making sure it’s here for long-term residents and not vacation rentals in neighborhoods.”

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Now that some people have rebuilt and moved back to Santa Rosa, prices have softened a bit but the city still feels it doesn’t have a single house to spare for those who want to live there.