Insight With Beth Ruyak

Hosted By Beth Ruyak

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The Challenges Of Rebuilding A Community After A Wildfire

John Locher / AP Photo

A sign stands at a community destroyed by the Camp fire, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018, in Paradise, Calif.

John Locher / AP Photo

Butte County residents want to rebuild their communities after the Camp Fire, but it won’t be easy. California construction firms report they’re facing a labor shortage. Homeowners still have to wait for insurance payouts and infrastructure repairs before hiring a contractor.

California Building Industry Association President and CEO Dan Dunmoyer joined Insight to talk about the challenges ahead for construction firms and homeowners in rebuilding communities. Here are some highlights from the conversation:

Interview Highlights

On the shortage of qualified contractors in the Paradise area

It's actually very bad. We need in this area of Paradise alone 14,000 single family and multi-family residences rebuilt. And, even before this fire, we have a stunning problem in finding qualified labor to build new homes. And so this complexity in this fire, this enormous fire, just adds to that challenge and will add to the delay of rebuilding this community.

It does. I mean a major city near Paradise is Chico, and Chico now has like a rental vacancy of less than 1 percent. So you need hundreds and thousands of skilled labor folks to build, then they would normally live in Chico. Well, actually, normally they live in Paradise but now they don't have a home there. So it'll be difficult then to commute in from Chico because that's also impacted. So how far will they have to commute just to get to work in Paradise is going to add to the complexity and challenge.

On the idea of bringing in contractors from out of state to rebuild

The challenge is we do have a national housing shortage and a national labor shortage as well. So our neighbors next to us, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Texas, not too far away have a tremendous demand as well. Some with, you know, in Texas' case it's also weather-related damages, and so it's putting more pressure on the availability of labor. But the only way we are going to rebuild the needs that we have in California, both for fire related damage and just general homebuilding, is to attract and grow more labor in the state.

On what communities can do to help the rebuilding process go more quickly

One, local governments need to create a process for rebuilding that's easier and Santa Rosa is a great example where the city leaders came together and created expedited permits, an expedited review process and brought people together as a community. That's what changes the time to rebuild and we've seen that in California and in my national background, before we saw that in other communities. Communities that come together and cities that come together change things.

The second thing is to attract labor and to allow for short-term communities to be built. You'll hear efforts in Chico and other parts to bring in literally RVs or mobile homes to bring in the labor to make sure they can live close by so they don't spend two or three hours commuting and that's a waste of time to rebuild. So if communities can assist and support in that transitional housing until it can be rebuilt, that would help.

And the final thing, too, is also for the state and local leaders to come together and develop a strategy to harden those areas to make sure that these fires don't occur again and that can be done, it's done in other communities throughout the state. It just requires that focus of attention.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.

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