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Rohnert Park may sell properties for apartments

Rohnert Park would sell four vacant buildings now earmarked for affordable housing, including its old City Hall, under a plan the City Council will be asked to approve on Tuesday.

Selling the buildings — three of which make up one block of Avram Avenue — would allow private developers to turn them into market-rate housing, city officials said.

“The market right now is really tight for apartments in Rohnert Park. We have a lot of students, we have a demand for apartments, and we think this would stimulate that development,” said City Manager Darrin Jenkins.

Affordable housing advocates criticized the idea.

“I understand why they’re making this decision but it feels very shortsighted,” said Paula Cook, president of the Sonoma County Housing Coalition’s consensus council, or managing body.

There is room for 50 to 60 apartments on the three combined properties that stretch from Commerce Boulevard to the current City Hall, Jenkins said.

The properties — and one other, an old fire station on Southwest Boulevard — were bought in 2008 and 2011 by the city’s redevelopment agency. The agency issued bonds to finance the purchases, for $5.1 million all together.

But in 2011, the state eliminated redevelopment agencies and the city lost the ongoing financial means to start and support housing projects. All the sites are vacant and increasingly run down.

If the city pays off the financing bonds, it will be free of the bonds’ covenant that the properties be used for low- and moderate-income housing, said Linda Babonis, the city’s economic development manager.

That, she said in the staff report, “will consequently have greater potential to generate increased property tax and sales tax revenues for the city.”

But Cook said abandoning affordable housing possibilities will hurt both the city and low- and moderate-income people.

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