Northern California struggles to rebuild homes after wildfire, faces labor shortage problems

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northern California wildfires
NASA satellite image of the northern California wildfires

Following the recent wildfire crisis, considered as the most destructive in state history, Northern California homeowners are struggling to find construction workers to rebuild their homes.

Aside from a shortage of available contractors, homeowners also face expensive rebuilding prices as insurance uncertainties and safety concerns loom in Wine Country.

According to labor economist Philip Martin from the University of California, it was already been difficult to get construction workers even before the fires, because the cost of living in Sonoma and Napa are higher than other parts of the state.

“Most people would say it is even going to get even harder to find workers after the fires,” Martin tells the the Sacramento Bee.

Another factor is that the laborers themselves have been directly affected by the wildfire. Many have also lost their own homes and are forced to evacuate to safety. Others also lost equipment necessary to work on construction projects, such as their vehicles.

Painters and Drywall Finishers union representative Matthew Egan says that many of the union’s members have been displaced and are moving from one place to another. He claims that, for construction workers, it is “very hard” to find a place to stay in North California.

His statement is supported by Herman Hernandez, manager of Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County’s youth apprenticeship program, which trains high-school dropouts and others to become construction industry laborers. His program has had 78 graduates since 2013 but he says this number is not enough to meet the current demand.

“There was a huge need for these workers prior to the wildfires,” relates Hernandez. “Now it is an overwhelmingly pressing need.” He also predicts the housing market to tighten up and that residents are most likely to transfer “due to the impossibility of finding a home.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention reports that over 210,000 acres of land has been damaged by the wildfire called as the Tubbs fire. It has destroyed 11 wineries and 7,700 structures, and has caused the death of 42 people. CNN estimates the total amount of damage to amount to $65 billion.

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