Sunday, June 1, 2014

Living Wage in Sonoma County

Letter by Bob Edwards, resident of City of Sonoma, published 2014-06 in the "Sonoma County Gazette" []:
Sonoma’s City Council is currently engaged in the laudable process of setting goals for itself. Unfortunately, it has not yet seen fit to use technology (e.g., Survey Monkey) to invite suggestions from constituents. So in Sonoma’s “Spirit of Volunteerism,” here is the first in what will hopefully be a stream of goal ideas from the City’s voters in this election year:
Goal #1: Increase Sonoma’s “Living Wage.”
A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) calculated what a worker would have to earn to afford what the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) considers «fair market rent» for a one-bedroom rental in communities across the country.
HUD determines “fair market rents,” which include rent plus utilities, based on the local market for decent-quality apartments of different sizes -- neither dumps nor luxury flats. These are also the rates HUD uses to establish local housing subsidies.
The NLIHC report was published recently in the Washington Post.(
It set out how much one has to earn per hour to rent modest one-bedroom housing, assuming a 40- hour work week and a 52-week year. They call this a “housing wage.”
According to NLIHC, in Sonoma County one must earn $18.38/hr. in order to rent a decent one-bedroom place. No county in California has decent one-bedroom rental housing if one earns only the minimum wage of $8.00/hr. That won’t change when the state’s minimum goes to $10 on 1/1/16. Sonomans earning less than $18.38/ hr. must often rent a spare room in someone’s home, share housing with other low-wage earners, or live in Mom’s basement. Add costs for food, clothes, transportation (to work) and health care, and their “American Dream” becomes a joke where food banks, food stamps and thrift shops are keys to survival. The situation for single parents can be grim, and the reality for high school graduates eager to «live on their own» in Sonoma is this: Without a lot of help from your friends, Sonoma’s current “living wage” of $15.15/hr. buys a Second or Third World existence amidst First World grandeur.
That’s why Council goals should include raising Sonoma’s “living wage” - to at least $25/hr. - for all employers who do business with the City, use City property or seek City business subsidies of any kind. While Council can’t dictate payrolls for other employers, it can set a much needed example. It is long past time - particularly in the wine and hospitality industry - to raise pay for those who do the work that generates the wealth that makes Sonoma a joy for tourists but not so much for those who serve them, hand and foot.

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