California spends billions rebuilding burned towns. The case for calling it quits
The devastation that blackouts left behind in the San Francisco Bay Area could be a cautionary tale. In San Francisco, the city and surrounding suburbs, 1,500 wildfires forced more than 200,000 residents out of their homes for days or weeks. The fires were mainly caused by windblown embers and not, as the Trump administration and media constantly claimed, by global warming.
The fires, many of which are still burning, forced tens of thousands of residents to evacuate, shut down roads, destroyed homes and businesses and made headlines around the world. But the most serious consequences were suffered by those who were displaced and had to scramble to find temporary living quarters, often with no money and no housing assistance. In San Francisco, the largest city in the Bay Area to have been badly affected by the fires, displaced residents found themselves homeless, evicted from their homes and left with no place to go.
There was little government support. In fact, the Bay Area has no local, state or federal government housing assistance program. And while the state Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has funded tens of billions of dollars in emergency housing in other disasters, it has failed to do so in the Bay Area. The department’s official position regarding homelessness is that it cannot fund housing for residents of the Bay Area who are displaced by a disaster.
The situation worsens as the local housing market suffers. San Francisco’s population has been rapidly growing over the past few decades, and it is projected to reach 40 million residents by 2040. San Francisco’s housing supply, which was already stretched to its limits, has been further strained by the region’s population boom.
To make matters worse, the housing shortage is concentrated in a few cities, most of which are located in the San Francisco Bay Area and surrounding cities. The Bay Area has the highest housing prices in the country, where average home prices are over $1 million on the peninsula, about $800,000 in Berkeley and nearly $400,000 in San Jose. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there are only 20,000 units of affordable housing in the Bay Area. The figure is even worse for California homeless programs, which have only 5,100 “soci