It’s been nearly four months since the October wildfires, but how many months will it take before the housing rebuilding effort gathers steam and direction?
What is clear already, say experts, is that rebuilding the homes will be a huge task because of the scale. Sonoma County lost about 5 percent of its housing: over 5,100 dwellings, including almost 3,000 in Santa Rosa. More than 400 were burned in Mendocino and Lake counties, and over 250 went up in flames in Napa and Solano counties.
Will all those homes, or close to those numbers be rebuilt?
“The fires will not create a tsunami of work, because we probably will not see as many rebuilds as we were expecting,” said Rob Cantu, president of Western Builders in Santa Rosa. “The number of projects is plagued by the inherent insurance disparities we’ve seen.
For-sale signs have been popping up on properties here and there in the burned North Bay burned areas. One challenge for a number of victims is their insurance policies may not have replacement-value levels to meet today’s construction costs and often include limited timeframes to cover living expenses such as rent. There has been legislation introduced in Sacramento to address the time limit, and Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has convinced insurers to be more flexible.
“There will be more work with fires, but management of all the projects will be the issue,” Cantu said.
He also is part of the Construction Coalition, a local group of industry figures who among their efforts over the past several years have been trying to speed the flow of projects through the permitting in Santa Rosa and the county of Sonoma.
The expected magnitude of rebuild permits prompted Santa Rosa to open its Resilient City Rebuilding Permit Center in late November. The county of Sonoma has developed a checklist for applicants to follow before submitting, for quick turnaround, and plans to open its own special processing center Feb. 13.
But it may take three to six more months to know how many homes will get rebuilt, according to Keith Woods, CEO of North Coast Builders Exchange, which represents Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa and Lake counties.
“We are in the era of the great unknowns,” said Keith Woods, North Coast Builders Exchange CEO. “The toughest thing to ask is for homeowners to be patient.”
Here are some of the unknowns he sees that could stymie the pace of the rebuild:
How many homeowners want to rebuild?
How many are uninsured or underinsured?
How many burned properties will be picked up by developers?
What will be the cost of materials?
Will there be enough labor to rebuild as fast as homeowners like?
How quickly will county and city officials be processing permits over time?
“It will be slow in 2018 and then significantly ramped up in 2019,” Woods said.
REBUILDING TOGETHER FASTER?
Julia Donohoe, who is leading the American Institute of Architects Redwood Empire chapter committee on recovery efforts, is hoping that 70 percent to 80 percent of the victims will rebuild, and has been advocating for neighborhood-scale reconstruction.
“With 40 percent renters in Coffey Park, I’m not sure we can get to a 70 percent rebuild, but we will see when permits are pulled,” Donohoe said.