How wildfires are gentrifying California

Wildfire in California.
(Image credit: George Rose/Getty Images)

California's housing market has struggled since the Tubbs Fire in October 2017, which not only marked the start of the state's "mega-fire era," as described by The Washington Post, but also kicked off a broader problem of fire-driven gentrification.

Because many of those affected by the 2017 fires lacked decent insurance or funds to repair their homes, they were forced to leave the areas in which they had always lived. But those who remained tended to be wealthier, "a trend helping remake and re-sort communities across the state by rich and poor," the Post writes. In fact, California "homebuyers paid a 46 percent premium to live in homes with a high wildfire risk compared to homes with a low wildfire risk" in 2022, USA Today reports.

"Disaster of every kind is increasing inequality in this state," commented Chris Coursey, who was mayor of Sonoma County, California, at the time of the Tubbs Fire. "It's not a theory. It's happening right in front of our eyes, to our neighbors and friends."

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) hopes to expand affordable housing in the state by building 2.5 million new homes and apartments by 2030, about half of which should be affordable to the middle class. But growing climate disasters are making that goal more difficult to reach. Research by the nonprofit group First Street Foundation found that the number of homes at risk of wildfires in California is expected to increase by six times in the next 30 years.

"I have yet to see a community become less expensive after a fire," remarked Jennifer Gray Thompson, co-founder and chief executive of the nonprofit After the Fire. "And my answer to those asking that question about whether those whose homes burned should be allowed to rebuild was always the same ... Just point out what underpass you would like these people to live under."

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