2017’s wildfire season was one for the books. As of November 2017, over 500,000 acres have burned in California, more than twice the annual average, according to CalFire. Thousands of homeowners and renters have been displaced, handing these affected housing markets a major challenge in rebuilding and housing those who lost their homes to fire.

While California’s wildfires have raged far and wide across the state, the major fires in 2017 were located in Northern California, including:

  • Calistoga;
  • Napa;
  • Oroville;
  • Santa Rosa; and
  • Sonoma

Even before the fires occurred, these areas of the state were experiencing severe housing inventory shortages.

For example, consider Sonoma County where the Tubbs Fire destroyed nearly 37,000 acres and 5,600 structures — most of them homes. This was the most destructive fire ever recorded in California, according to CalFire.* As of September 2017 — before the fire — the number of homes for sale was already 17% below a year earlier, according to Zillow. Just 257 homes were for sale.

When you contrast this with the 5,600 structures destroyed in this area by the Tubbs Fire, you’re left with a big question mark: where will all of these residents live now?

Rebuilding, rezoning

Most homeowners have insurance that covers the loss of their home to fire. Therefore, many will rebuild on the site of their former homes. But this will take a considerable amount of time, especially when the overburdened construction workforce is already short in workers.

In the months and years it will take to rebuild all the homes lost to fire, some residents will move in with family, and others will seek to rent. But with rental vacancy rates already at historic lows — at 3.6% statewide in 2016 — rentals are difficult to come by.

In fact, the California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE) recently issued a statement referencing price gouging of rents in locations impacted by the fire. CalBRE reminds licensees that it is a misdemeanor to lease property at a rent 10% higher or more following a declared state of emergency, such as occurred during the fires.

To house all of those who lost their homes on top of those already wishing to move to this prosperous region, lawmakers can take this opportunity to rezone for growth.

Specifically, rezoning to allow higher density in certain desirable areas of each city will organically encourage more low-tier housing. This type of housing is most often purchased by first-time homebuyers.

The alternative for those unable to find temporary residence will be to move out of the area, a permanent loss to the local economy.

Real estate agents: check out CalFire’s checklist to make your home safe from fire. Direct clients to this government website for information on how to reduce the likelihood their home will be destroyed by wildfire.

Related article:

Housing shortage: Graduated zoning changes are the answer

Editor’s note — A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Napa County as receiving the greatest impact from the Tubbs Fire. This has been updated to reflect the correct county impacted by the Tubbs Fire, Sonoma County.

Update: In November 2018, the Camp Fire surpassed the Tubbs Fire in terms of destruction, with three times more structures destroyed. Read more here.