Wildfire rebuilds start filling big hole in North Bay housing supply in 2018
While 2017 was the year that significant home construction returned to the North Bay after a lull of nearly a decade, 2018 has been the year of the rebuild.
The North Bay wildfires of October 2017 were the costliest in U.S. history, with insured losses approaching $10 billion. They also killed 44 people and destroyed 6,200 homes in Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa and Solano counties.
Those insurance claims are rivaled by $9.5 billion in claims so far from California’s fires this year, which destroyed over 20,000 homes, largely in the city of Paradise, according to the state Department of Insurance.
A slowdown in construction for the past two decades because of the economy and real estate development challenges led to a shortfall of about 30,000 dwellings in Sonoma County alone after the wildfires, according to a county report.
State Sen. Mike McGuire told local business leaders just after the anniversary of the North Bay fires that if affordable housing is proposed, communities should ignore bias against having the homes built near them.
“We need a change of culture in our communities, one that accepts affordable housing,” McGuire said. “We may say we all support it now, but will we be willing to accept it when it is built a half block from where we live? We have to accept this change and work together.”
The rebuild got underway in the North Bay, but officials estimate it will take several years to replace the homes. In the unincorporated areas of Sonoma County, 27 rebuilds are complete, and 527 are in construction, according to the county’s online tally. Permits have been issued for 284 rebuilds, and another 135 are in progress.
Inside Santa Rosa city limits, 90 rebuilds are complete out of nearly 1,500 lost. Under construction are 911 rebuilds. Permits have been issued for 235, and another 251 are in progress.
Napa County has issued or is ready to issue 125 rebuild permits related to the 2017 wildfires and is working on another 60 applications, according to the latest online tally.
A big question for homeowners in the burn areas is the fate of their insurance policies on renewal next year, as several carriers have signaled significant increases to premiums or dropping coverage all together.
And a question for homebuilders is where the workforce will come from to rebuild the lost homes and construction units elsewhere. Some builders have been turning to premanufactured components such as walls or rooms to speed projects and ease the hiring crunch.
To rebuild employment in the trades, industry-led North Bay Construction Corps is working with school officials in Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Mendocino and Lake counties to turn up to 125 high school seniors annually into ready-to-train workers.