Wildfires Have Worsened the Bay Area’s Housing Crisis

This article appeared on The Atlantic’s CityLab.

During the night of October 8, Santa Rosa, California, found itself pinned between two wildfires. To the southeast, the Nuns fire burned west of Highway 12. To the northeast, the Tubbs fire charred the hills outside Calistoga and worked its way southwest. In Santa Rosa, the latter would prove the more devastating. The Tubbs fire tore through the wealthy community of Fountaingrove before jumping Highway 101 and claiming about 1,500 homes in dense, working-class Coffey Park.

By the time they were contained at the end of October, a spate of fires around the North Bay had claimed more than 40 lives and 5,700 buildings.

Even before the fires, low-wage laborers and an estimated 28,000 undocumented workers struggled to eke out a living in an area with an exceptionally high cost of living. Now, the question facing them is not how they will rebuild their lives, but whether they can at all.

The morning after the fire devastated Coffey Park, a line formed outside the Graton Day Labor Center west of Santa Rosa. Disasters “always make new day laborers,” said the center’s director, Jesus Guzman. The Graton center is part of a national network that includes offices in New York City and New Orleans, and Guzman said his sister locations reported similar lines during the days following hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

Some of those looking for work were farmworkers whose fields had burned—Sonoma County is the nation’s largest producer of wine—but even more had been employed in some corner of the region’s fast-growing tourism and services industries. The flames claimed a nursing home, a Kmart, Best Western and Hilton hotels, and many other businesses on which low-wage workers had depended to eke out a living.

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