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California Housing Director Says Wildfires Could Amplify Housing Shortage


This interview is an installment of Insight's collaboration with The View From Here: Place And Privilege.

The state's affordable housing crisis has developed into an emergency in areas of Northern California due to wildfires, according to California Department of Housing and Community Development Director Ben Metcalf.

Metcalf said around 6,500 homes have been destroyed by wildfires in the North Bay.

"In a given year, in the last 5 or 10 years in the Bay Area, we've only built maybe 10-15,000 homes,” Metcalf told Insight. “So in a single week, we've taken out half of the Bay Area's annual  production of new housing. So that's going to be felt in pretty immediate ways, and we're going to have to get creative."

California's economy has improved and added new jobs in recent years, but not new housing units to meet growing demand. The effects of growth in the Bay Area and other parts of the state are driving up the costs of housing for everyone.

"We estimate that probably over the last 5 years, only about 65,000 new homes have been added at a time when almost half-a-million new jobs have been created,” Metcalf said. “That incredible imbalance of folks trying to come into the Bay Area and folks trying to access new jobs but simply not enough housing has caused rents to go up and home prices to soar."

Even with economic growth in California, Metcalf said people are leaving the state because housing costs continue spiraling higher and higher.

"The last year it was 110,000 California households who out-migrated,” he said. “And when you parse that 110,000, you find that a disproportionate number of those folks are lower income, they are communities of color, they are millennials, they are folks who are just not able to get a toehold, and yet they should be part of a vibrant and diverse California."

Metcalf said the destruction of homes by wildfires may cause the Legislature to enact new laws and funding to address the housing crisis.

They recently passed, and Gov. Brown signed, a package of bills to address the housing crisis.

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