Northern California needs helping hands to rebuild faster — industry experts

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Local construction firms are worried about labor shortages as they rebuild homes after the recent wildfire disaster. A new proposal is offering a possible solution. (http://commons.wikimedia.org)

With only a handful of contractors to work on more than 14,700 homes after October 2017’s wildfire disaster, industry experts are suggesting recruiting more builders from outside of Northern California for faster and more efficient rebuilding.

Before the disaster, the region had already seen a shortage of skilled workers and materials. Local firms are expecting the crisis to worsen and delay rebuilding, but the new proposal could provide a solution by bringing in more workers and pooling them together with the existing workforce to rebuild whole communities and streets, with a focus on areas with the most damage.

“Because we have such a large situation, we have to think beyond our own property lines,” explained Julia Donoho, an architect involved in a project to rebuild the entire Santa Rosa Coffey Park neighborhood where 1,300 homes were lost. Donoho also added that homeowners do not just want a few homes back. They want their entire neighborhood rebuilt.

However, from an insurance point of view, the proposal could face some financial setbacks. Jeff Okrepkie, an insurance agent at George Petersen Insurance Agency and also a fire victim, said that pooling resources to rebuild sounds like a great idea but with homeowners still in talks with insurance adjusters and banks, Northern California’s future looks “bleak and scary.”

Okrepkie also attributed the region’s labor shortage crisis to the rental and home market, predicting, “It will get worse because we just lost that many residential structures.”

A similar approach has already been used in previous California wildfires in 2003, 2007 and 2008. San Diego’s Scripps Ranch community, which had 2,300 homes ravaged by the 2003 Cedar fire, is the biggest rebuilding project to utilize the production-scale technique.

“… We think we could offer a helping hand,” said Stonefield Companies executive Jeff Pack whose company is among those who joined in mass-rebuilding homes after the Cedar fire in Southern California.

Moreover, Kenneth Klein, an expert on natural disasters and a professor at California Western School of Law, said that the proposal can help lower prices, allowing fire victims to afford rebuilding. He pointed out that insurance data shows that out of the 80 percent of insured homes in the country, at least 20 percent are under-insured, meaning many homeowners do not have enough insurance proceeds to reconstruct their homes.

Sonoma County experienced the most destruction with 5,000 homes lost to the disaster. Santa Rosa ranks second with 3,000 homes destroyed. There was also destruction in other counties such as Napa, Mendocino and Lake.

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