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Northern California wildfires: Santa Rosa loses 5 percent of scarce housing stock

Fire damage leaves desperate home-seekers with few options

Multiple Wildfires Continue To Ravage Through California Wine Country Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

As of Tuesday night, Cal Fire reports that the Nuns fire and Tubbs fire—the two remaining blazes nearest to Santa Rosa—are both 91 percent contained.

While that progress is encouraging, the Sonoma County city has already seen neighborhoods destroyed, which, on top of the immediate humanitarian crisis, will exacerbate the city’s existing housing shortage.

The Sacramento Bee projects that fires destroyed roughly 6,700 homes and businesses in Santa Rosa alone.

“It’s estimated that five percent of the city’s housing stock is gone, with more homes destroyed outside its limits,” reports to the paper.

Last week, Oscar Wei, an economist with the California Association of Realtors, estimated the same volume of “four or five percent” housing loss and warned the San Jose Mercury News that already irksome rent and home prices will soar as fires recede.

“This will cut into supply,” says Wei.

For some perspective, the U.S. Census estimated in 2016 that Santa Rosa had a population of 175,155 people. In 2010 the city’s housing stock measured at only 67,396 units. (More recent census surveys haven’t updated this figure.)

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) says Santa Rosa has an unmet rental demand of more than 1,700 units over the next three years, but has only 200 new rental homes under construction.

According to HUD:

The rental housing market in the HMA is currently tight, with an estimated vacancy rate of 3.2 percent, down from 5.2 percent during 2010.

The apartment market is also tight, with a 3.5-percent vacancy rate during the first quarter of 2017, down from 3.8 percent a year earlier. The average apartment rent of $1,623 was up nearly 5 percent during the past year.

Multiple Wildfires Continue To Ravage Through California Wine Country Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

The news is equally dismal on the home-buying front. Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood, one of the hardest-hit places, is a working-class area. Those who lost their homes and livelihoods have few options when it comes to new and immediate housing.

“The average sales price of a home in Santa Rosa for 2015 was $504,125,” according to the city’s 2017 profile report, having risen every year since 2011.

The city previously hoped to add nearly 3,000 new units in the near term but approved fewer than 300 in 2016, according to Santa Rosa’s Planning and Economic Development team.

Meanwhile, the city’s population grew by over 1,000 annually during the last seven years.