Slow burn: Homeowners lose zeal to rebuild after wildfire season

Contractor shortages and climate crisis put damper on activity

Los Angeles /
Jan.January 18, 2021 08:30 AM
A photo of the Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November 2018 (Getty)
A photo of the Woolsey Fire in Malibu in November 2018 (Getty)

It had become a morbid tradition in California: After seasonal wildfires that damaged or destroyed their properties, homeowners would rally to rebuild.

But with the ever-worsening climate crisis, the pandemic, and the worst wildfire season on record, many homeowners may have finally given up hope of salvaging their properties and have started afresh, according to the New York Times.

One key reason is the shortage of contractors, according to the Times.

“Most big insurance companies will just cut you a big check [after a wildfire], and you can be sitting there looking at a check for $900,000,” Dan Dunmoyer, CEO of the California Building Industry Association, told the paper. “And you talk to contractors and they say: ‘Sure, I can build you a home, but I’m backed up for a year and a half.’ So we’re seeing a lot people just cut and run.”

New home construction permit numbers in California reached 120,000 in 2018, then dipped to 110,000 in 2019. The California Industry Research Board, which collects statewide statistics on housing, estimates that just under 104,000 permits were issued in 2020.

The exceptions to this trend happen in areas where land prices are especially valuable. Consider Malibu, for example, where one-third of the 650 luxury homes destroyed during the 2018 wildfires have rebuild permits in place.

“Rebuilding after a fire is sort of like someone who gets a shark bite and still goes back and surfs,” said Michael Nourmand, president of Nourmand& Associates. “But people in L.A. have a short memory. Most people are planning to rebuild.”

In November, for the second year in a row, California issued a one-year moratorium banning insurers from canceling or refusing to renew policies for homeowners in or near areas hit by the record-breaking wildfires. [NYT] — TRD Staff


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