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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chester Aaaron on Over-Radiation of African Americans

Over-Radiation of African Americans
A Conversation with Chester Aaron

By Raynetta James
Chester Aaron, now 87 years old, has published 25 books: fiction and non-fiction, adult and young adult. He has won a variety of awards, including NEA and Primo Levy grants. His books have been translated into Dutch, French and German. He is a WWII veteran and a professor emeritus of Saint Mary's College. His new novel, About Them, is due late this year, and a new collection of ten short stories, Saved for My Pallbearers, is due early next year.

I have been getting creative writing tips from Chester for almost 2 years in a class started by Lolly Mesches to raise funds for the Occidental Center for the Arts. It was hosted at the home of the late Doris Murphy, a long-time labor and justice advocate and a founder of the center. During the year or so that Doris was well enough for us to meet at her house, Chester told me a story that came to mind when the current radiation crisis in Japan began. So I asked him about it:

Q. Chester, you told me that, when x-rayed, African Americans often received more radiation than a white patient of the same age and size. They got a higher dose of radiation than a white person, only because they were African American. Is that right?
A. Yes. The amount of extra radiation varied from tech to tech, hospital to hospital, but it was happening all over the country. The amount of extra radiation ranged from a third more to a half more that a white patient of similar body mass would have received. Radiation, especially in the aggregate, is dangerous; that's why there are lead shields. So over-radiation is likely to have caused many deaths and health problems over the years.

Q. How did you discover this over-radiation?
A. By accident. In the late 60's I was Chief Technician in the x-ray Department of Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California. I was concerned about the lack of standard training and practice of x-ray technicians and I believed licensure would help establish standards. At that time, New York was the only state requiring x-ray technicians to pass a state-sponsored exam to prove they were knowledgeable enough to safely dispense radiation to patients. We had been trying to get similar standards and licensure in California.

I was preparing for state committee hearings, when I learned from Pat, one of the seven x-ray technicians at Alta Bates, that she was giving extra radiation to every African American patient that she x-rayed, regardless of age, gender or the target of the radiation, whether it was bone, soft tissue, organs or the skull. She had been ordered to do so by the Radiologist who trained her. The text she used in training said that African Americans required extra radiation to provide films of acceptable diagnostic quality. Later, I found that the practice was common.

Q. When did it happen? Is it still going on?
A. After I discovered it in the late 1960's, I tried many times to get it stopped and acknowledged. It may have been stopped, in many hospitals, but it was never acknowledged. The question of after-effects on present and future African Americans should be studied and dealt with in terms of health consequences and deaths.

Q. You're saying although it was stopped, we should still be concerned?
A. I am. First, the effects of radiation are long term. Skin cancer, thyroid cancer, leukemia and reproductive harm are all possible. Second, the practice is part of the history of racial inequality in this country, part of the history of African Americans being treated as if they are "other." And the response of governmental officials and institutional leaders is part of the history of African Americans being treated as less than equal. Consider the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study of 1932-1972, when 400 Black men were infected with syphilis with secret government support. We don't stop being concerned about the ramifications of that experiment just because it was stopped. In both cases we should recognize that the same practices applied to white people would not be tolerated.

Q. And how did you try to stop it?
A. Over the years, I have contacted more than a hundred people who I thought should and would be concerned. I selected people I thought would do something to stop over-radiation, but I got few responses and less satisfaction. Each time I would send information to someone who should have cared, and either hear nothing or be brushed off. For instance, the last big push I gave it was in 1998, when I sent a letter to Ed Bradley. His program, 60 Minutes, was one that took risks and investigated stories in depth. I offered him a story more than 50 years deep. I told him how I had discovered that in most American Hospitals African Americans were being over-radiated, receiving more radiation than a comparable white patient, and that it had to be disclosed; it had to be stopped. The practice, I said could be more disastrous to African Americans than the results of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

Q. Weren't they interested?
A. I did get a response, from Catherine Kim, identified on her letter as "...a researcher for Ed Bradley." She said Mr. Bradley wanted to visit my California farm to interview me and disclose this unrecognized and horrible piece of American history. I agreed, but three days later a letter from Ms. Kim informed me that Mr. Bradley, having received information that the practice of over-radiating African Americans had stopped since I had first disclosed it some thirty years before, was canceling the pending visit and interview.

Q. That must have been disappointing, to get so close.
A. It was. I wrote back to inform them that though the practice had diminished it had not stopped. Even if it had stopped altogether, the reasons for it to have ever existed had to be disclosed and researched farther for a variety of reasons, only one of which related to our country's history. I told them that Mr. Bradley was certainly over-radiated when he was young because he was a "Negro," and that his parents had been over-radiated because they were "Negroes." Because of that generational over-radiation Mr. Bradley and his children and his children's children, may very well inherit ongoing health problems. And, I asked, what about African Americans who, unlike Mr. Bradley, do not have the benefits of high income and good health care to deal with those predictable and unpredictable consequences?

Q. What did they say to that?
A. I didn't hear a word. Sadly, 8 years later, in 2006, Mr. Bradley died of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia. The risk of that disease greatly increases among people who have been exposed (or whose parents and grandparents have been exposed) to high doses of radiation. And the chances are very high that the parents of Mr. Bradley and Mr. Bradley himself, every time they were x-rayed, from childhood, received as much as twice the radiation that would have been given a white patient the same gender, age, size and muscle-mass. Think Hiroshima. Think Nagasaki. Think Chernobyl. In my letter lamenting his death, I included those details, but I never heard from Ms. Kim or anyone else at CBS.

Q. But that wasn't the first time you had tried to disclose and stop over-radiation, was it?
A. Oh no, as I said I had contacted hundreds of people over the years. When I discovered the practice in the late '60s I was in my mid-forties, barely 20 years home from WWII, where I had participated in the liberation of the concentration camp of Dachau. How could I not be sympathetic to the fate of innocent victims? So when I discovered the practice while preparing for hearings on State Licensure, I was astounded. I had received two years training at Cowell Hospital on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. I had worked as an x-ray technician at Kaiser Hospital, San Francisco for two years and Alta Bates Hospital for three years before being appointed Chief Technician by the three Radiologists serving Alta Bates Hospital. In all that time I never once used the color of a patient's skin to determine how much radiation I should use. 

And my films had been acceptable to the Radiologists; after all they had made me Chief. I had never even heard of such a theory. But then Pat told me she had been ordered to do so by her Radiologist trainer, and her textbooks said that African Americans required extra radiation to provide films of acceptable diagnostic quality. Then I found out that most x-ray technicians had been taught the same thing, and did increase the dosage of radiation for African Americans. Their reasons varied: African Americans had darker skin, African Americans had harder bones, or African Americans' bones contained more calcium. I could find no scientific evidence proving any such reasons were legitimate.

Q. That was when you were fighting for licensure legislation. Did stopping the practice of over-radiation become part of the effort?
A. When our group working for State Licensure traveled to Sacramento to meet with the Committee on Efficiency and Economy in the State Assembly whose Chairman was Willie Brown, later San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, an African American. I was selected to act as spokesman. To illustrate the need for licensure, I noted that every x-ray technician in the state must learn the truth: that extra radiation to African American patients was not only unnecessary but hazardous. Willie Brown declared the meeting at an end. The Committee had no time, he said, to consider such discussion. Over the following years my letters of further explanation and appeal to Representative Brown received not one single reply. We failed to get licensure at that time.

I got involved in helping the East Bay technicians decide on the union by whom they wished to be represented. The ILWU (the International Longshoremen Workers Union) was selected. In that effort, I discovered through questions added to a survey of x-ray technicians that 72 of the approximately 90 technicians surveyed stated they did routinely give higher doses of radiation to African Americans. I tried to get the ILWU involved in the over-radiation battle, but our local representative and the Union officers could not have been less interested.

Q. Where did it go from there?
A. I kept gathering information about the possibly homicidal practice of over-radiating African Americans, and I heard about a physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, Time Magazine, Sept. 8, 1967) who stressed the hazards of x-rays, inconsistent dosage and lack of training for many who gave x-rays. We exchanged letters of support for each other's work.
I heard from technicians all over the country who were as angry and helpless as I was and who gave me details of the textbooks and their Radiologists (many who "ordered" their techs to give extra radiation to African Americans.)

Senator Jennings Randolph (D. West Virginia) sent me a letter of strong support. He worked for many years to get Federal legislation to establish minimum standards for the accreditation of x-ray machine operations.

By the early to mid '70s I had a collection of letters and research documents totaling about 50 pages. By the late 90's, I had sent perhaps 50 copies to officials in the NAACP, in Health, Education, Journalism and Government, including my own senators Feinstein and Boxer and Representatives Lynne Woolsey and Ron Dellums, and to Representatives Shirley Chisholm and Maxine Waters, pleading for support. Maxine Waters sent me a card informing me that she was referring my letter to my Representative, Lynne Woolsey.

Rep. Woolsey did take the matter to the Office of the U. S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. I received a letter from Bill Lann Lee, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, dated May 20, 1998, which said that the practice did not, quoting here "appear to indicate ongoing violation of CRIPA (Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act), i.e. the circumstances you have described do not involve practices to which individuals confined to or residing in public facilities (let me emphasize that phrase) presently are being subjected. Under these circumstances we have no authority to initiate an investigation under CRIPA of your allegations...."

Rep. Ron Dellums, my own representative from my own city did not reply. A few years later, when I informed him that I intended to disclose this information to the then-very conservative Oakland Tribune, his Oakland Office Manager called and suggested I come to the office. I did. His greeting: "I understand you have a problem." My response: "I don't have a problem. You do. And Representative Dellums does. You are both black and I am white." He said he had not read the report I had sent to Congressman Dellums. I got up and left the office.

At meetings of my own American Society of X-ray Technicians I was hooted down and more than once called a Communist or agitator or both.

Q. Did you have any success at all?
A. There was a ray of hope in the early 70's: an African American Nurse at my own hospital, Ethel Jellins, RN, sent a copy of my document collection to her cousin, John A. Williams, a WWII vet and author and journalist at The Amsterdam News, New York.

John and I had several telephone conversations before he published an article in the Amsterdam News disclosing the practice of the over-radiation of African Americans. But I did not receive one response.
And, as another hopeful sign, Ralph Nader was introduced to the issue by Dr. Karl Z. Morgan. Mr. Nader did his own research in several hospitals and testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, I think in 1971, to publicize the issue, citing my work. His statistics about the practice of over-radiation bore mine out.

The following day, several newspapers all over the country had Nader's testimony about the over-radiation of African American patients on their front pages. The stories included reference to my name and my work. David Perlman, Science Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, interviewed me on the phone for a half hour. The day after that the Chronicle ran the science editor's report.

The day after that I was given notice by the Assistant Administrator at Alta Bates Hospital, Richard Adams, to clean out my desk and be off the premises in two hours.

When I informed Mr. Nader of the consequences of his testimony he very kindly said that if I wanted my job back he would come out to California to help me. I refused his offer. I should have accepted it.
Thinking myself more than qualified to be a Chief Technician I was sure I would have no difficulty getting a job. But over the following year every hospital and private office I applied to turned me down, except one: Ross General in Marin County. I lasted not quite two months. I was fired when I protested that the Chief Radiologist was not permitting the technicians to have their coffee breaks.

Over the years, after I left the Medical Field (I became a professor at Saint Mary's College, where I served for 25 years) I continued to try to get a variety of relevant local and national authorities to act in some way on the issue of over-radiation of African Americans, but they all ignored those efforts. The only protest by a relevant authority came from an article published in the Black Muslim newspaper Muhammad Speaks. There was no reaction.

Enter Jack S. Mandel, PhD, MPH, Professor and Head Mayo Chair in Public Health at the University of Minnesota. In the mid-90's, I began receiving requests from Professor Mandel to participate in a study that was developing information about the effects of possible radiation effects on the health of former x-ray technicians.

I think I answered two different surveys before I sent a letter to Prof. Mandel, along with my collected documentation regarding the over-radiation of African Americans, and asked him if he was including in his study the fact that African American Technicians might have extra concerns because of the cumulative effects of their exposure as patients added to their exposure as x-ray technicians. He did not respond.

I persisted, demanding a reply, or, I said, I would go to higher authorities. I reminded him of the involvement of "scientists" and health officials in Alabama in the infamous and deadly Tuskegee Syphilis Study, where at least 400 African American men died, thanks to scientific research, funded by the same Federal Government that was probably funding much of his work.
I sent a copy of this letter and copies of my documents to a reporter for the leading Minnesota newspaper.

Finally, a reply came from the Professor, dated March 17, 1997, in which he said, "I have talked to many people at the National Cancer Institute and elsewhere about the issue you raised. I was not able to locate anyone who had any information. I spoke to people who are international experts in radiation epidemiology and health physics representing over three decades of research experience. None was able to recollect the Senate Commerce Committee hearings to which you referred or the issue of over-radiation of black patients."

I wrote back pointing out that I had originally brought the issue to his attention ten or eleven years earlier when I first received his questionnaire. I reminded him that I had documented the practice some 25-30 years earlier, that my documentation of the practice was verified and reported before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee by Ralph Nader, that, in preceding and subsequent public testimony by Dr. Karl Z. Morgan of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, after performing his own research, verified the ongoing practice and suggested that the death of approximately 300 African Americans per year was related to this over-radiation, that David Perlman, the Science Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle had interviewed me and published much of this information in the Chronicle. I reminded him that all of this testimony and documentation was public record. I accused him of willfully denying and ignoring the facts, facts relevant to his study of the effects of radiation of x-ray technicians.

I sent copies of my letter to many people. Dr. Mandel never responded. Of the governmental officials I contacted, only Representative Maxine Waters replied, to inform me she was relaying my letter to my own Representative, Congresswoman Lynne Woolsey, who contacted the Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General's office - I have already described their letter and reasons for doing nothing - as well to 60 Minutes, the results of which I have already described.

I gave up.

Then in 2009, in a brief essay delivered on National Public Radio, reviewing my life, I mentioned (20 seconds in a statement of about five minutes) "... my attempts to stop the over-radiation of African American patients in hospitals 40 years ago...."

Over the next several days I received phone calls and emails requesting more information. I contacted the offices of the NAACP in Baltimore, Maryland. I spoke to Mr. Adam Lee who transferred me to Ms. Wendy Hamilton. Ms. Hamilton expressed serious interest. I suggested I send her copies of those documents I still had. She agreed. I sent the copies. I heard nothing. Is, was, this silence a repetition of the disinterest displayed by the NAACP in the '60s? But why? I sent Ms. Hamilton an email saying that I am now almost 86 years old and I would not be patient and considerate and indulgent any longer. Should I not hear from the NAACP in 5 days I would seek other routes for disclosure. I still have not heard.

Suggestion: if you are an African American - no matter your age, no matter your gender - think about what increased health risks you may now be exposed to because, and only because, you are an African American. Shouldn't we all, but especially the NAACP, be concerned?

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Green Living for a Blue Planet: Earth Day 2011

How Green is your Green?

by Fred Krueger

In 2002 all nine of Sonoma County’s cities pledged to participate in a campaign to reduce greenhouse gas levels and become leaders in climate protection.

Several years later a climate master plan was developed by civic and local government leaders. They said that it was no longer okay to continue life as usual. Climate change was serious. We had to change our habitual patterns of living. We had to make the transition from being champion consumers to champion conservers

If we failed in this task, they wrote, a series of disasters would befall us. They cited World Bank data which showed “melting glaciers and rising sea levels could displace 200 million people; 40 percent of remaining species could be extinct by 2050. The cost to adapt to this changing world would reach as much as 5 to 20 percent of world GDP.” With this as background they added that if we take early and aggressive action now, we might minimize the worst effects of climate change to perhaps 1 percent of world GDP, and in the process create millions of new jobs.

Subsequent authoritative science reports unfortunately affirm this data. If anything the authors of this 2008 Community Climate Plan understated the severity of the challenge and the difficulty of the tasks facing society.

While this is becoming clear to many citizens, a virulent anti-science mentality has developed among the so-called Tea Party supporters. They contest the very existence of human-caused climate change. Analysis by journalist Naomi Klein probes the roots of these climate deniers’ thinking. Underneath their denial, she finds a series of intentional economic calculations. She observes that while the science is becoming clearer than ever, and while we have just ended the hottest decade on record, we’re seeing a remarkable drop in the number of people who acknowledge climate change as a serious issue.

Several forces are simultaneously at work, she says. On the surface, this is an identity issue, at least for those on the political right. People are defining themselves, or being encouraged to define themselves, by whether or not they believe that climate change is anthropogenic, i.e., caused by human action. On a deeper level, the issue is economic. The problem is not a lack of understanding of science. It is just the opposite. Naomi finds that climate change represents a profound threat to many of the things that right-wing ideologues hold dear. Climate change, if we are serious about slowing it, upends free trade suppositions, because it implies a need to localize our economies. Globalization and free trade are major elements of the far right corporate agenda. This would end because we would have to address the issue of inequality. We would also need to subsidize the global South because the climate crisis has been born in the industrial North, but is most acutely impacting the global South.

The list of implications goes on. Corporations would have to be regulated because stronger controls over the economy would require more intense levels of intervention in commerce. Renewable energy would have to be subsidized to break the grip of fossil fuels. This would further clash with their free market ideology. A stronger United Nations with enforcement authority over binding agreements would be necessary as no nation can fight climate change alone. In other words, it is far easier to deny the science of climate change than to deny their ideological agenda. What is at stake is the entire corporate worldview. Climate change also implies a renunciation of consumerism. It forces a more frugal and thoughtful and sustainable mode of living.

It is not just those on the right who are in denial. Green groups are also culpable in that they propose timid tiny steps when our whole cultural outlook is under indictment by the implications of climate change. Some green groups suggest that we might be able to continue with some form of “green capitalism,” and that we merely need to change few light bulbs and everything will be alright. Anyone who says this does not have a comprehensive view of the implications of what our society is facing. Climate change will change our whole way of life and we need to begin by examining our own lives.

Food, for instance, that is grown locally requires only one-tenth of the energy as imported food. In other words, “good bye bananas, hello apples.”

If someone genuinely wants to be part of the solution to this problem, instead of merely thinking about lowering one’s carbon footprint, we ought to be thinking about zeroing out that footprint entirely. We can do this by planting trees.

Some data is necessary here. Each year the average American produces between 12 and 18 tons of carbon dioxide, maybe 20 for those who travel a lot. This is calculated by taking the gross total of all U.S. CO2 emissions and dividing by 310 million citizens.

However each tree sequesters about a ton and a half of CO2 over thirty years. This means that if each person can plant a dozen trees per year and guarantee that they will remain for at least three decades, just by this one action you reduce your carbon footprint balance to zero. Of course one should also make the lifestyle changes that reduce impact on our earth. Without this we cannot leave a liveable world to the next generations that will follow us.

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Sierra Club vs. Bohemian Grove = Trees Win!

By Jay Halcomb and Dan Kerbein, Redwood Chapter, Sierra Club

Environmentalists had opposed the Bohemian Club’s Non-industrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP), which sought CALFIRE’s approval to log up to nearly two million board feet per year, including some old growth, at the Bohemian Grove. The Sierra Club’s lawsuit maintained that the Bohemian Club overstated the amount of timber that could be sustainably harvested, in violation of CEQA.

The recent ruling in the Sierra Club v CALFIRE case is a win for environmentalists who for years waged a David and Goliath-style battle in an effort to scale back logging at the Bohemian Club’s 2,700-acre Bohemian Grove near Monte Rio, 75 miles north of San Francisco.

“The ruling is significant because it requires CALFIRE to consider reasonable alternatives that are less damaging to the environment,” said Paul Carroll, the Sierra Club attorney who successfully argued the case.

The Bohemian Grove, the Bohemian Club’s elite enclave on the Russian River, contains magnificent redwoods and Douglas fir, some more than 1,000 years old. Coastal old-growth redwoods remain on only 4 to 5 percent of their original range— a 450-mile band along the Pacific coast from Big Sur, California to southern Oregon.

The Bohemian Club’s NTMP drew hundreds of public comments, more than any other in the history of California’s 1972 Forest Practices Act. In this ruling, Judge Chouteau questioned how CALFIRE could consider clear-cutting as potentially feasible, but reject the public’s request for less damaging alternatives.

“This ruling affirms that public participation in the permitting process is essential to protecting the state’s remaining old growth,” said John Hooper, a long time forest activist and former Bohemian Club member whose objections to the logging plan led to the lawsuit.

Former Club member discovered old-growth trees tagged for logging

In 2001, while a member of the Bohemian Club, Hooper hiked the outlying acres of the Bohemian Grove and came upon large old-growth redwoods and Douglas fir that had been tagged for harvest. He learned that the Bohemian Club, citing the need for fire prevention, had applied for a permit (NTMP) to harvest 1.13 to 1.8 million board feet per year. A 2001 internal report by the Bohemian Grove’s then-forester had concluded that the Grove could only sustain a maximum cut of 500,000 board feet in a year without damaging the forest.

The Bohemian Club had logged 11 million board feet between 1984 and 2005, including old growth trees. At least nine old-growth stands were still intact, but Hooper found that these hadn’t been disclosed in the Bohemian Club’s NTMP. State regulations require landowners to divulge “special and unique” resources on their property so that logging plans can be accurately evaluated. CALFIRE requires that NTMP timber harvest goals be sustainable.

Hooper, a fourth-generation member of the Bohemian Club, went to the Bohemian Club’s Board with his concerns. He was rebuffed. Eventually shunned by the Bohemian Club for his opposition to its logging regime, Hooper resigned his membership in 2004. He and a small group of North Coast activists protested the Bohemian Club’s logging plan to CALFIRE.

Scientists from UCLA and UC-Davis disputed the Bohemian Club’s sustainability and fire safety claims. The California Department of Fish and Game also criticized the plan.

"From start to finish, this was clearly a logging project, not a project to reduce the fire hazard,” said Philip Rundel, Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UCLA. “The harvest rates and cutting schedules were totally inconsistent with the plan’s claims of restoring natural forest conditions.”

As a result of the criticism, the Bohemians scaled back their NTMP but rejected two settlement offers environmentalists proposed for a less damaging plan. The Bohemian Club resubmitted its NTMP in 2009, but offered no “feasible alternatives” to the proposed logging, as CEQA requires. CALFIRE approved the plan anyway, just two days before stronger regulations protecting Russian River salmon and steelhead took effect.

Concerned about the challenge to the integrity of CEQA, the Sierra Club filed suit in January 2010. In its ruling, the Court ordered CALFIRE to rescind its permit to the Bohemian Club and start over.

“Now that the court has rejected the Bohemian Club's NTMP, we’ll be working closely with CALFIRE and the Bohemian Club to come up with a new timber management plan,” said Jay Halcomb, chair of the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter. “In a way, our work is just beginning. We hope it will proceed in a more constructive manner than in the past. Restoring old-growth stocks will help California combat climate change.”

“(This) victory shows that no matter how influential a group may be, it is not exempt from the law,” said Rick Coates, executive director of Forest Unlimited in Cazadero and a veteran of many redwood battles.

More information is available at:


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Affordable Housing in Sonoma County

Cheap Houses
Do we still need affordable housing in Sonoma County?

It’s clear that the answer to whether we need more affordable housing in Sonoma County is a resounding YES!

Housing prices have tanked in the past few years. The median price for a typical three bedroom two bath home reached $619,000 in 2005; generally only the top wage earners were able to buy a home. Sonoma County was in the top 5 most expensive housing markets in the country when median home prices were compared to median incomes

The median price for the same home is now $328,750 (Press Democrat 2/15/2011). This is affordable to people with a monthly household income of $7910 (equivalent to $23 per hour for two full-time workers or an annual household income of $94,920)! This assumes that the household uses 30% of its gross income for housing costs and has total debt payments, including housing, that do not exceed 38% of gross income. It is harder these days to qualify for a mortgage loan because of the recent problems in the real estate market, so people must have a good credit score and a 10% to 20% down payment and closing costs to get that loan. And then there are the other non-monetary hoops to jump through; collecting two years’ income tax reports, account statements, appraisals and miscellaneous other documentation.

There are also a few homes available specifically to moderate income households earning no more than $48,240 for a family of four. For instance, Burbank Housing Development Corporation, a non-profit housing developer, is selling a 3 bedroom, two-bath home at Hollyhock Homes in Sebastopol for no more than $345,000. They have other homes for sale in Windsor that are targeted to low or moderate-income households. (

The good news is that this means housing for sale to our work force is more affordable these days. The bad news is that it is still difficult even for the approximately 40% of our neighbors who rent their housing.

Many full time employees find it hard to find rentals they can afford. The median rent in Sonoma County is nearly $1,200. The Living Wage Coalition calculates that a four-person household including two adults, a preschooler and an infant needs a monthly income of $5,245 (equivalent to an hourly wage of nearly $15 for each adult) to afford that rent. ( When you add the fact that the sale of many foreclosed homes has forced tenants to find other housing, the picture is not so bright for current tenants either.

How do we fare in Sonoma County? Many of our cities have worked hard to see that affordable housing is developed for their citizens. Cloverdale, Sebastopol, and Healdsburg are good examples of cities that have approved affordable housing developments. Unfortunately, the financial markets have made it difficult to get some of those units built. Lynn Goldberg, senior planner for Healdsburg, reported that, despite their city approving plans for 110% of the affordable housing goals established by the State, only 3 homes were built last year.

The Russian River area will soon have its first rental housing with rents restricted for low-income residents. Fife Creek Commons is under construction with an opening projected for 2012. It has been difficult to find land appropriate for apartment units due to the twin problems of hilly topography and flooding. Fife Creek Commons, where the living spaces are being built over the garages, will have a range of one, two and three bedroom units plus a community space that can also be used by the neighbors.

John Lowry, executive director of the non-profit Burbank Housing Development Corp, says that it will be at least five years before the funding needed to build additional affordable housing is readily available. BHDC has projects under construction in Windsor and Sebastopol with plans to build in Santa Rosa. The proposed capture of local redevelopment funds to bail out the State is likely to dry up another important source of funding.

In Sonoma County generally, there are fewer than 30 affordable rental units per 1,000 residents, or about 0.3% of our housing units. On the other hand, about 45% of our population falls into the low-income category or lower. That includes not only young working families and seniors, but also many disabled people.

You can find a list of affordable rentals at We need more affordable housing in our County.


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