Sonoma's Wildfire Housing Strategies Take Shape

After the Northern California Wildfires, Sonoma County and local officials grapple with wildfire housing strategies.

Available housing in Sonoma County was already tight before the wildfires. Now prices for available rentals in Santa Rosa and other affected communities are skyrocketing, according to a recent report on wildfire housing opportunities by the Mercury News.

Those fortunate enough to find rentals after the Northern California Wildfires found them through friends or relatives. County and local government officials are focused on a transitional strategy for wildfire housing as rebuilding begins.

Wildfire Housing for Local Workforce a Priority

Sonoma County officials are focused on post-disaster transitional housing that will place those with jobs in the area, said County Supervisor James Gore.

Gore said the county along with federal, state and local officials are looking at a transitional mass housing plan possibly composed of modular homes constructed on county or city land, though plans are still taking shape.

I’m going to focus my time and attention on the 3,000 houses that burned down (in my district) that are workforce (housing),” Gore said. “First, we need to identify what the number is that needs it: who’s not living with a family member, who would want to live in a temporary living situation like that.”

Relaxing Regulations to Speed Up Rebuilding

Gore indicated county officials may be open to relaxing regulations to speed up construction. They may also allow homeowners to construct granny or in-law units, or even apartment buildings on their properties.

At this point, I feel like we throw all the rules out,” said Gore. “We don’t want this to create a mass exodus.”

Santa Rosa Vice Mayor Jack Tibbetts echoed Gore. He said new housing policies, such as reduced building-related fees, are anticipated by the Santa Rosa City Council.

Home Sharing & Peer-to-Peer

Sonoma County officials are promoting its existing Shared Housing and Resource Exchange (SHARE) program initially designed for homeowners aged 60 or older. Homeowners can post available rooms and be matched with people willing to exchange either rent payments or other services, like meal preparation or transportation.

Santa Rosa is partnering with Craigslist and Airbnb Open Homes to get residents to open spare spaces, Tibbetts said.

Likewise, the county is also trying incentives for those with vacation homes to house fellow residents displaced by the fires.

Airbnb's disaster response tool has been activated several times in 2017, for Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, the Las Vegas Shooting and more. Currently, more than 900 hosts are listed as welcoming evacuees of the Northern California Wildfires through November 15, 2017.

Mighway, a peer-to-peer tool for RV owners and RV renters, has offered assistance in setting up emergency RV accommodations. The Permit Sonoma Planning Division and the Sonoma County Community Development Commission have listed RV housing opportunities, and other resources, on the Fire Housing Resources page on the county's website.

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