On December 6, 2022 the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors passed protections for people living in trailers, tiny homes, and other simple dwellings. The board amended the county building code to make it easier for people living in alternative housing to do so legally. Included in these changes is the legalization of the waterless and composting toilets used in many tiny homes. Any property in Sonoma County will now be legally allowed to host a tiny home or trailer. Permit Sonoma also committed to drafting policy that will make it easier for converted outbuildings to be brought up to code as an ADU, by applying the code that existed at the time the structure was first built. All told, this decision was a huge victory for housing activists and the thousands of Sonoma County residents living in trailers, tiny homes, and other simple dwellings.
These historic protections were passed after more than a year of activism, investigative journalism, and public pressure. In September 2021, the SonomaIndependent.org, an award-winning public interest solutions and advocacy website owned by Progressive Source Communications, created the Campaign to Stop All Government Evictions from Safe Affordable Alternative Housing (SAGE).
Working with local activists and the county’s largest grassroots housing rights groups, the effort has grown to be one of the most important affordable housing campaigns in California history. More than 50,000 people in the county have viewed this three minute advocacy music video that Progressive Source created featuring tiny home grandma Copperwoman Saso:
Using the California Public Records Act, an extensive 3-month investigation by the Sonoma Independent.org discovered that last year the county’s code enforcement agency ordered affordable housing property owners to evict about 200 low income renters, many of them seniors, from trailers, tiny homes and other alternative housing. Even though this housing is on the whole perfectly safe and even though the same structures are legal in other circumstances or localities, Permit Sonoma considers any dwelling that lacks a permit to be a threat to health and safety. Because most of these homes are trailers or have compost toilets, they are either impossible or prohibitively expensive to legalize. Right now, a single phone call from an anonymous neighbor results in an inspection by the agency and, 98% of the time, a 30-day vacate order enforced by draconian fines, forcing people to evict beloved friends, seniors and even siblings from their own properties. Meanwhile, an estimated 20,000 low income renters people live in similar alternative unpermitted homes, with zero evidence of ill health or danger.
Alternative housing uses far less water and has a much smaller carbon footprint than ordinary homes and apartments, and it is the only affordable market rate housing available in Sonoma County. Despite this, local government currently criminalizes the very type of housing that should be focused on encouraging.
More than 3,700 people signed the Sonoma Independent’s petition here urging County Supervisors to vote for an urgency ordinance similar to the proposed moratorium here that Progressive Source, working with activists and Supervisor Lynda Hopkins’ staff, drafted an urgency ordinance for a proposed moratorium here. We also organized delegations of public speakers to call for the end of a dysfunctional system that causes twice as many low income residents to become homeless as the county spends nearly $20 million each year acquiring housing for.
The changes passed in December 2022 were in direct response to the campaign launched by Progressive Source and the Sonoma Independent. These new policies are some of the most permissive in California and will protect hundreds of renters from eviction every year. The board’s legalization of composting toilets is the most robust in the state and could serve as an example to other counties and states. There is certainly more work to be done; even under the new building code, only one tiny home or trailer will be allowed on each property, even on large rural tracts of land. That being said, thousands of people living in alternative housing in Sonoma County now no longer have to live in fear that a call to Permit Sonoma will cost them their home.