Tuesday, December 11, 2018

On the rural housing shortage and how California's wildfires have drawn attention to it

I've already blogged recently about how the California wildfires have drawn attention not only to California's housing shortage generally, but even more so its rural housing crisis.  I'm coming back to that topic because the national (and state) media continue to attend to it and because the media are also talking about the wildfires in relation to income inequality and poverty. 

The Los Angeles Times' Liam Dillon wrote a few days ago under the headline, "How Northern California's Destructive Wildfires Could Exacerbate the State's Housing Crisis."  Here's an excerpt:
Five large wildfires over the past 14 months, with November’s Camp fire the most devastating, have destroyed nearly 21,000 homes across six counties. That total is equivalent to more than 85% of all the new housing built in those counties over the past decade, according to Construction Industry Research Board building permit statistics.
Dillon quotes Bob Rymer of the California Building Industry Association. 
We had a housing crisis prior to the fires.  This exacerbated the crisis. I can’t even put a measure on it. Just wow.
The story profiles a low-income apartment complex that was destroyed in the Camp Fire, Paradise Community Village.  Its three dozen apartment homes were among 14,000 housing units destroyed by the the fire.  The apartment complex is owned by the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), which owns or manages 17 properties in Butte, Shasta and five surrounding counties.  Even before the fire, CHIP had a wait list of 1800 families. 

Dillon also considers what's been going on around other California communities that have suffered wildfires: 
This summer’s Carr fire in Shasta and Trinity counties destroyed more than 1,000 homes. After the fire, officials in Redding, the largest city in Shasta County, heard from their counterparts in Sonoma County that a shortage of builders was pushing up costs there, Redding City Councilwoman Kristen Schreder said. She fears the effects could be even worse in her community and Butte County as rebuilding efforts get off the ground.
Schreder pointed to $6 billion in new funding for low-income and homeless housing developments approved by California voters in November as a potential source of money to help the neediest residents find permanent homes.
An earlier Los Angeles Times story by Anna M. Phillips provides more helpful context regarding the Butte County housing market: 
Across Butte County — a primarily agricultural area known for its walnut, almond and rice farms — towns are struggling to absorb the roughly 50,000 people displaced by the Camp fire. Through no fault of their own, the evacuees’ arrival has worsened the state’s housing crisis and raised the possibility that they could be evicted from the region again, not by fire but by a scarcity of suitable dwellings.

Hotels and motels from Sacramento to Redding are full. The vacancy rate in the rental market, which hovered around 3% before the fire, has fallen to near zero. Unable to find single-family homes in the area, evacuees have resorted to renting individual bedrooms, buying recreational vehicles and purchasing travel trailers. Others are simply leaving California for other western states with a lower cost of living.
* * *
Butte County Housing Authority Executive Director Ed Mayer said that nearly 14,000 homes burned to the ground on Nov. 8, a loss of about 14% of Butte’s housing stock. Before the fire, the county’s homeless population numbered about 2,000. Now, it is expected to grow.
* * *
On the day before the fire broke out, the city of Chico had 243 homes for sale, said Adam Pearce, president of the North Valley group. About a week later, less than a third of them were still on the market.
Needless to say, demand is driving up housing prices.

Here's some of last year's coverage of the impact of the Tubbs fire on Sonoma County area housing. The dateline is Santa Rosa, the largest population cluster affected by that fire.  Some 5,700 structures, mostly homes, were destroyed in that fire.  Here's a data-dense excerpt from that story:
California already had a housing crisis long before the fires started. With strict environmental rules and local politics that can discourage new housing development, the state’s pace of new construction has fallen far short of the state’s population growth. 
In the five-year period ending in 2014, California added 544,000 households, but only 467,000 housing units, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, and the deficit is only expected to grow over the next decade. Napa and Sonoma Counties, where the fires did some of the most extensive damage, are among the furthest behind, building less than half the number of units in recent years that the state reckons were needed to keep up with the population.
As a somewhat related matter, here's coverage of the disparate impact the Camp Fire had on elderly folks in Butte County, where many lived in manufactured housing. 

At the other end of the housing spectrum--the luxury end--is new high-end accommodation for aging baby boomers--dateline, Santa Rosa.

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