Sonoma County is rebuilding two-thirds of homes lost in 2017 fires

On the morning of her 34th birthday last July, Katrina Lassen woke up in her new home in Larkfield Estates, a suburban housing estate where all 163 homes had been incinerated by the 2017 Tubbs Fire.

“It was surreal,” she said. “I immediately felt at home.”

The ranch-style home lost in the fire was where her husband, Danny, a Santa Rosa firefighter, grew up. In its place, the Lassens built a three-bedroom home for their family, including their 11-year-old son Kaiden and 9-year-old daughter Makenna.

“I love it,” Katrina Lassen said. “Quarantine has given us a lot of extra time within these walls.”

Lassen said she particularly liked the large tub and balcony off the second-floor master bedroom.

Their home is one of 138 rebuilt in the subdivision, where only 25 lots remain vacant. It is one of more than 1,700 homes already rebuilt following the 2017 wildfires that destroyed 5,334 homes in Sonoma County.

In Santa Rosa, the Tubbs Fire alone destroyed about 3,000 homes, mostly in Coffey Park and Fountaingrove and representing 5% of the city’s housing stock.

With nearly 2,000 homes under construction or in the permitting process, the county is on track to rebuild 68% of lost stock in just over two and a half years, the result of a remarkable and seemingly unmatched recovery. driven by community resolve and relaxed. by a streamlined but also complicated bureaucracy.

“FEMA hasn’t seen recovery numbers like we haven’t had anywhere,” said David Guhin, deputy city manager of Santa Rosa, relaying the response he heard from federal case experts. of disaster regarding the county’s reconstruction effort.

“The grizzled veterans” of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services are “thrilled with the progress Sonoma County has made,” said State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg.

Yet while state and local officials applaud the replacement of more than two-thirds of burned-out homes, they also cite the remaining shortfall, attributed to a range of issues including six-figure gaps in insurance coverage and the “sticker shock” due to inflated construction costs. .

“That’s pretty good but not good enough,” said County Supervisor James Gore, whose district lost 2,387 homes, absorbing 45% of the loss.

“We knew 25-30% would be left behind, mostly those who were underinsured,” he said. “We saw early on that cracks were already forming.”

A third of 460 respondents to a survey late last year told United Policyholders that they had not settled the home portion of their home insurance claim.

“It paralyzes people. They don’t know what they can spend to rebuild,” said Amy Bach, executive director of the San Francisco-based nonprofit.

Nearly two-thirds said they were underinsured by an average of $367,000, a rate that Bach says is “consistent with what we see after every disaster. . . a needle that we can’t seem to move.

Gore said Federal Emergency Management Agency officials expected underinsurance in the range of $300,000, and “I thought they were nuts.”

He is no longer skeptical, saying he knows homeowners who were underinsured up to $1 million.

Many owners are taking a gamble, downplaying the cost of their policy on the odds that a total loss is relatively rare, said Bach, an attorney. Courts typically place the onus on homeowners to obtain adequate insurance, she said.

Gore said he believes some owners have been “totally screwed by their insurance company”, while others are to blame for not improving their coverage over time.

More than 60% of Lake County homeowners found themselves underinsured following the disastrous 2015 wildfire season in that county, said Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, attributing it to a mix about equal of homeowners trying to save money and failing insurance agents. to disclose the need to cover inflation in reconstruction costs.

Homeowners in Sonoma County have struggled to find available contractors as well as rising bids pushed by volatile construction costs, said Keith Woods, chief executive of North Coast Builders Exchange, a trade group. Those costs jumped to $400 to $500 per square foot for a custom home with mid-range furnishings and $600 to $800 for high-end furnishings, such as flooring, windows, and light fixtures. he declared.

Supervisor Susan Gorin, whose district lost 1,780 homes, including her own, said reconstruction costs were $500 to $600 per square foot, up from $300 to $400 before the fire.

Some Kenwood and Glen Ellen residents have chosen to downsize their new homes with fewer luxury items, she said.

“I still haven’t settled with my insurance company,” Gorin said.

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