21,000 homes lost to recent California firestorms guarantees housing shortage will persist for years

From the Wine Country fires to the Camp Fire, California has had a run of almost unimaginable damage to add to the already tight North Bay housing markets, let alone firestorms from the previous three years. 

The recent North Bay fires look to have created the worst housing crisis in North Bay history.

In just the last 14 months, the five major wildfire events that have plagued six northern California counties have incinerated some 21,000 homes.  That's the equivalent of 85 percent of all the new homes built in those six counties in the past decade. 

This massive loss guarantees that a severe housing shortage will persist for many years and the cost of existing homes, new homes and rents will rise, with the only relief valve being large numbers of people moving out and moving on.

Local contractors, plus those from other states with reciprocity to build in California, will continue to be overwhelmed. 

"Before the Butte tragedy, we had more lost homes than we have licensed contractors in the North Bay," said Woods.  "Everybody wants their house done, understandably, but the manpower is really lacking.”

Retired contractor Steve Kazorra, who's rebuilding his Coffey Park home, says it will be a few years before all the lots are filled back up. 

And, consider this: even if all 1,500 homes destroyed in Coffee Park were completed tomorrow, a job which in reality will take many, many years, there's still 19,500 homes to go in the six county burn area.

"This is devastation like I never could possibly have imagined," said Woods.

As far as contractor shortage, the Builders Exchange said its partly due to lack of youthful interest in the building trade in the 1990s, plus a recession that wiped out half the homebuilder’s workforce. So, the exchange helped create the North Bay Construction Corps. to teach high school seniors the building trades by literally building tiny home after tiny home, sold to keep the Corps. going and expanding.

Sonoma State University Economics Professor Robert Eyler said the timing of these fires was bad as well. "What's tough about this time that it happened, if it had happened 7 years ago, when there were more people available for work and the cost of labor and materials wasn't as high as was now, it might be a little easier to rebuild more quickly," said Eyler. 

And what about the destroyed town of Paradise? 

"It could be as much as a decade before all the decision making about rebuilding and what the town will look like. It may not get rebuilt regardless of the timeline," said Eyler.