Wildfires Exacerbate Chronic Homelessness In Northern California

Wildfires Exacerbate Chronic Homelessness Found in Northern California

Enlarge this picture toggle caption Jae C. Hong/AP Jae C. Hong/AP

Two months ago raging wildfires in Northern California destroyed a large number of homes and businesses, intensifying an already chronic homelessness problem in the location of Santa Rosa.

The city lost 3,000 homes – 5 percent of its total housing stock – in the Tubbs fire, the most significant blaze to sweep through the region in October. Selling price gouging is creating a second wave of homelessness as exorbitant rents preserve persons from finding new housing in the wake of the fires, says Jennielynn Holmes, senior director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa. Holmes says the result could possibly be more devastating compared to the housing crisis that precipitated the fantastic Recession.

“We’re sort of seeing the craze of what happened with the 2008 foreclosure crisis,” she tells Below & Now’s Robin Young. “We saw persons entering homelessness for the first time ever after that, and we’re predicting that to happen in the next couple of months here. And regrettably, it appears like it’s happening a little faster than it did with the 2008 foreclosure crisis.”

Holmes says that because of this group of people, “their unit didn’t burn up, but due to the fire which new market, it really is completely choosing them offline,” adding that landlords whose homes burned are actually evicting tenants from rental units.

Between September and mid-October, the typical asking price on the rental industry jumped by 36 percent in Sonoma and 23 percent in Napa, according to an analysis by rental site Zillow. The median regular monthly lease in Santa Rosa grew to $2,982 in the days after the fire.

The dwindling way to obtain affordable housing in the city greater than 160,000 is affecting people over the socioeconomic spectrum, Holmes says, but the situation is particularly dire for individuals who were already homeless. Prior to the fires, Santa Rosa only had a less than 1 percent vacancy fee, and the location was struggling to go nearly 3,000 homeless persons out of tent encampments on the roads.

“Prior to the fire there wasn’t a whole lot of light being cast on our homeless circumstance,” Fernando Gomez, a 24-year-outdated resident who was simply displaced prior to the fires, told the Huffington Post last month. “I feel like it’s getting a lot of media attention due to those displaced [by the fires], and I just want people to understand: There were a whole lot of people displaced before that.”

There is also a developing concern that price gouging will generate more problems for the long-term homeless population, as persons with higher incomes enter the rental market and lower-income persons are pushed out, Holmes says.

But property owners say they aren’t purposely acquiring good thing about vulnerable residents.

“People don’t realize that we’re giving an answer to insurance companies desperately trying to support clients who desire a spot to live,” Randy Knight, chief executive of 5StarVR.com, a vacation rental company, told the Los Angeles Times.

Regardless of intent, the rent uptick is exacerbating the income gap in Sonoma County, where the median own home price is more than $600,000, more than double the national average. Individuals who moved to Sonoma County to dodge million-dollar home prices in San Francisco may now be priced out.

“Because of that difference, in the last few years, a whole lot of persons who cannot afford to are in San Francisco or Santa Clara, they move farther north, away to counties just like Sonoma,” Oscar Wei, a senior economist at the California Association of Realtors, told the Los Angeles Times in October.

New data from the Department of Casing and Urban Development present that the homeless fee rose slightly this year for the first time since 2010, due to a spike in homelessness in cities along the West Coast, including Los Angeles, Seattle, NORTH PARK and Sacramento. The info indicate a severe shortage of affordable housing is causing the homelessness upsurge in these cities.

In Santa Rosa, Holmes says the wildfires have emboldened advocates to aggressively intensify work to combat homelessness from all angles.

“We’ve these high priority issues for our community prior to the fire on October 7th. Then your fires hit October 8th, and everything is normally magnified,” she says. “And what’s really important is normally … we don’t just address the persons who were displaced immediately by the fire inside our rebuilding efforts.”

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