Devastation, predation and greed

There have been many devastating multiplier effects of the Camp Fire in the month since it forced the mass exodus of Paradise and portions of the surrounding foothills. One of them has been the crunch for housing (see “Demand outweighs supply,” Newslines, Nov. 15).

Early on, via an emergency ordinance, the Chico City Council clamped down on price gouging by prohibiting price increases of more than 10 percent on rentals and other types of housing, including motel and hotel costs—based on the rates immediately prior to the disaster. The vote was unanimous.

Sadly, that policy was needed. According to a report prepared by City Manager Mark Orme the week after the firestorm, city staff had already received multiple complaints of such predatory activity.

However, there are no such protections that apply to property owners who’ve decided to sell rather than rent. What we’re seeing as a result is a ripple effect of unmitigated selfishness.

Putting personal profit over the welfare of the community, landlords around the region are working overtime to move their rentals to the real estate market. There, they are seeing inflated prices due to weary Camp Fire survivors—the well-insured ones, anyway—who are desperate to regain a sense of normalcy. In some cases, prospective buyers are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars above the rates that existed just prior to the disaster. Right now, they’re not considering the fact that they may never get a return on their investment.

But that’s minor when compared with the real victims of this scenario. Indeed, this greed-borne trend has made vulnerable a new group of locals—renters who aren’t affluent enough to join the ranks of home ownership.

As we report this week (see “Squeezed out,” page 8), those who are selling—for no other reason than to take advantage of the current market—are forcing out people who have little to no chance of finding alternative housing in this area. What we’re talking about here is the displacement of families, many with children who would not only suffer the loss of a stable home but also their schools and friends. A disruption to this region’s workforce is another effect.

Of course, not every landlord is so debased. Many see the merits of considering the greater good. If you’re one of them, we thank you. As for those attempting to cash in on the deadliest and most destructive fire in our state’s history, there’s a word for you that isn’t fit to print. Use your imagination.